CD REVIEW: Eberhard Weber - Hommage à Eberhard Weber

Eberhard Weber - Hommage à Eberhard Weber
(ECM Records 473 2344. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)

Rarely has a live jazz album felt as emotive or as broadly momentous, encompassing and celebrating so many strands and decades of sublime creativity.

Since the beginning of the 1970s, and gradually becoming a mainstay of Manfred Eicher's ECM record label, Stuttgart-born Eberhard Weber has forged a visionary compositional and instrumental path, providing contemporary jazz with one of its most distinctive, five-string bass sonorities. Throughout his career, Weber has continued to delight audiophiles and concert audiences via a vast range of atmospheric, boundary-straddling releases, collaborating perhaps most notably with Ralph Towner, Jon Christensen, Jan Garbarek, Gary Burton, Paul McCandless and Pat Metheny. But in 2007, a stroke brought an end to his bass-playing (though two albums, Resumé (2012) and Encore (2015) – based on archived, live bass solos with the Jan Garbarek Group between 1990 and 2007 – have since been released).

In January 2015, to observe the popular bassist's 75th birthday and honour his significant musical achievements, two jubilee concerts were presented in Stuttgart; and though Eberhard selected the personnel, he requested that the programme be a surprise. So, a stellar line-up convened – Pat Metheny (guitars), Jan Garbarek (soprano sax), Gary Burton (vibraphone), Scott Colley (double bass), Danny Gottlieb (drums), Paul McCandless (English horn, soprano sax), Klaus Graf (alto sax) and Ernst Hutter (euphonium).  With the powerfully elegant 18-piece SWR Big Band conducted by Helge Sunde and Michael Gibbs, the stage was set for large-scale arrangements of Weber's music (with arrangements by Gibbs, Ralf SchmidRainer Tempel and Libor Šíma), with Pat Metheny's 30-minutes-plus commission, Hommage, the centrepiece.

Appropriately, one of the stars of the show was Eberhard Weber himself, firstly as compère and expectant onlooker; but also, ingeniously, recorded excerpts of his playing were woven into some of the performances, so that the bassist became magically integrated. Résumé Variations opens the album, a typically ethereal, soaring, eight-minute extemporisation from Garbarek, its spatiality caressing only Weber's signature phased-effect layerings from tape; and Touch broods magnificently to Ralf Schmid's luscious, cinemascope, big band arrangement, with features for Gary Burton's vibraphone and Paul McCandless's English horn, whilst bassist Scott Colley takes on Weber's role particularly eloquently.

Maurizius (taken from 1982 album Later That Evening) is sensitively reimagined in Michael Gibbs' arrangement, the wistful air of the original frequently breaking into brassy grandeur. More recent creation Tübingen preens itself majestically, Rainer Tempel's imaginative arrangement bristling with exquisite musicianship, including the delicacy of vibes and soprano sax; and digital download add-on Street Scene is, ironically, an album highlight – at nine minutes, this ebullient, big band spectacular dances to Burton's seemingly effortless perambulations and Colley's bubbling, subtly-rasping, Weber-like bass.

Pat Metheny's challenge to create Hommage entailed incorporating available video elements of Eberhard Weber's improvisations into a new work, with the visual sampling appearing as a projection behind the players at the key moments. Broadly through-composed, it fascinatingly melds the guitarist's written and performance styles with Weber's, producing dynamic, soundtrack-scale orchestrations which, though continuous, are divided into contrasting movements. The SWR Big Band's crystalline dynamics and brassy stabs are particularly effective, especially combined with Weber's resonant presence and Metheny's characteristic pitch-bent synth improvisations – and fittingly, the overall impression is of celebration.

To close, Libor Šíma's close-harmonied arrangement of Notes After An Evening possesses a hymnal, almost South-African folksong quality (reminiscent, too, of O Waly Waly), its reverence suggesting the respect that these concert audiences communicated to this great bassist/composer of our time. As Metheny puts it: "The main goal for me in all of this was the hope that Eberhard would enjoy the evening of the premiere and that I would be able to represent at least a portion of the genuine love I have for him and his music in a way that was faithful to the standard he established throughout his amazing career." A very special ECM occasion.

Adrian Pallant is a proofreader, musician and jazz writer who also reviews at his own site

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