EW, b, keybds; Jan Garbarek, sop & ten sx, selje flt; Michael DiPasqua, dr, perc.
In 2011, Eberhard Weber decided he was too old to gain back his chops another time. Rumor is he had had a debilitating stroke in 2007. But his musical intelligence was unimpaired and he had in his possession close to a thousand tapes of solos recorded when he was playing in Jan Garbarek's groups. Why not go back and pick out the most representative or interesting of them and release them as an album? Thus the genesis of this interesting, largely successful, and deeply musical album of electrically amplified and enhanced bass solos, augmented on a few tracks by Garbarek's mournful sax and flute, in others by Michael DiPasqua's tasteful drumming.
I fell in love with Weber's sound the first time I heard him. It was the 70s -early 70s- and the album -no, two albums--were with the Gary Burton quintet, Ring (1974) and Passengers (1976). On both albums, Pat Metheny (guit) and Burton (vib) took the lion's share of the solos; Bob Moses played drums and Steve Swallow (elect. b) carried the rhythm; and Weber added his signature sound. Then I heard Weber's own Colours of Chloe (1973), still moving though a bit dated now, and overly sweet for my present taste. Last came Weber's own group, Colours, with Charlie Mariano on reeds, Rainer Bruninghaus on keyboards (one of the first keyboardists to take advantage of the tonal possibilities of the synthesizer), master drummer Jon Christensen, and Weber. The first album by Colours, Yellow Fields (1975) was the best but all three were good. (The other two suffered from the departure of Christensen -his replacement, John Marshall, was good but not as good as the man he replaced. But then who could have been?)
This is Weber's thirteenth album, excluding compilations (three in all). He is also on record as a sideman with Kate Bush, Jan Garbarek, Ralph Towner, Pat Metheny and others, including Manfred Schoof, Benny Bailey, Joe Pass, Stephane Grappelli, Hampton Hawes, Baden Powell and (!) Art Van Damme. All in all, a respectable career.
When you talk about Weber, the first thing that comes to mind is his sound. It's immediately identifiable and like no other in jazz: sort of like an amplified whale song, rising and ebbing, adding a layer of emotion to whatever recording he's involved in, but not what bass players typically do. Weber is on record as stating that he's not interested in the traditional bass solo. First of all, the tonality and range of the bass is low: it can be hard to listen to through a long solo. Secondly, he sees the function of the bass as providing rhythmic and, even more, harmonic underpinning to the song. What he plays is thus often closer to ambient music a la Brian Eno or Terry Riley than to something, say, Ray Brown or Paul Chambers would play, either rhythm backing or solo. Nor does his ensemble work resemble the high range, dancing work of Scott LaFaro in the Bill Evans trio -Weber's sound is lower, richer -and much, much slower. Typically, his notes slide glacially underneath the melody and harmonies of the other players in a group. Seldom if ever on a recording does he take what could be called a traditional solo. And, to complicate matters, he plays a five-string bass, not four string, in a design of his own, and it switches between acoustical and electrically amplified.
When he played with Jan Garbarek -they played more than a thousand concerts together he seldom soloed much during the ensemble pieces, but at some point midway through the evening, the other horns would drop out and Weber would play solo, his bass playing augmented by prerecorded fragments of keyboard (also played by him), for five, ten minutes, and then the group would join in again. That's what this album is: five to ten-minute segments of music played between the ensemble pieces, most Weber alone, in a few, augmented by Garbarek or DiPasqua.
Does the album succeed? My judgment would be yes, but it's a specialty flavor that may not be to everyone's taste. I t's "jazz," but it's not jazz as it's usually played, and it is often closer to ambient music -think Brian Eno's Music for Airports. In Weber's body of works, it lies closest to his 2001 semi-jazz, semi-classical album, Endless Days, but more overtly experimental and improvised. I like it. I respect Weber -for his musical taste, for his willingness to go his own way musically, for the sharp musical intelligence that peeps out of these musical fragments. Not every jazz great (if Weber's not a great, he's on the edge of being one) provokes imitators. Some, like Eberhard Weber, don't catch on because they're doing something to different from what their peers do.