Eberhard Weber plays a lot of different kinds of music, but chamber jazz isn’t one of them.
People throw around the term ‘chamber jazz’ in reference to ECM Records’ eclectic catalog of jazz and improvisational performers, and it is true that, on the whole, the music produced by the label’s artists tends to be understated, small ensemble music that tends to sound like it would be more at home on the concert stage than at a local dive. But many clearly haven’t listened closely enough to ECM artists to hear the intensity and drive in some of their recorded performances.
An incredible reminder of this is the excellent first track on the new ECM :rarum release featuring bassist Eberhard Weber, “Nimbus,” from guitarist and fellow ECM artist Ralph Towner’s album Solstice. The piece starts out quietly and stately enough, but the intensity that it builds as Weber and drummer Jon Christensen bolster Towner’s 12-string improvisations, is nothing short of a firestorm, equal in its way to the fiery tension of the John Coltrane Quartet.
Besides the work with Towner, there are two tracks featuring guitarist Pat Metheny. “The Whopper” also features vibraphonist Gary Burton, Dan Gottlieb on drums, and dual bassists Weber and Steve Swallow. Originally heard on Burton’s album Passengers, it is a sunny piece in which Weber and Swallow manage to trade their bass roles with ease without ever treading on each other’s toes. It’s a bassists’ tour de force, and no one can hear it and help marvel at the beauty of the musicianship involved. The other Metheny track, “Watercolors” comes from the Metheny album of the same name and features Weber playing his double bass with a bow.
“Silent Feet” offers something of the flavor of Weber’s famous “Cholors of Chloe.” “In the late 70s, early 80s” says Weber in his liner notes, “you took your time, played ‘endless’ introductions before finally getting down to business. But that bothered nobody because it felt right, because we had patience, a quality disappearing nowadays.” It’s true: though some would consider such performances to be self-indulgent, they still sound alright because they grow organically out of the players’ feel for the material, not from any misguided musical instinct. Rainer Bruninghaus plays piano beautifully here, driven forward by Weber’s lyrical bass work and drummer John Marshall’s cymbal-driven tidal wave. With all of that, Charlie Mariano’s soprano sax playing is icing on an already rich cake—but what icing!
“Fluid Rustle” is generally considered a high point in Eberhard Weber’s recording career, and this somewhat ambient piece featuring, for the first time, Bill Frisell as well as Gary Burton playing marimba. Over its seven-and-a-half minute time, the piece manages to include some fine solo statements from Weber. The voice work is by Norma Winstone, who overlaid chords of as many as 16 notes track by track nearly a decade before the vocal multitracking of Enya, which has been referred to as ‘groundbreaking.’ Indeed!
“Maurizius” comes from work done for a German television documentary and features Frissell and pianist Lyle Mays. “I still consider it a waste of ideas if a film or TV soundtrack that has obviously turned out well can be heard only for the short duration of the broadcast” says Weber in his liner notes. I have to agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment!
Weber has done a great deal of work with saxophonist Jan Garbarek over the years, and there are two Garbarek tracks here to illustrate the fruition of that musical relationship. “Gesture,” from Garabrek’s Wayfarer album, is a sprightly tune that also features Bill Frisell on guitar and Michael DiPasqua on drums and percussion. The interplay between Garbarek and Weber is at times breathtaking, and will satisfy anyone who enjoys hearing small ensembles playing openly within a structured environment. The Garbarek track “Her Wild Ways ” (from the album Rites), featuring the most recent Garbarek Group lineup (Garbarek, Weber, Rainer Bruninghaus on piano and Marilyn Mazur on drums) offers similar pleasures in a slightly different environment. It would be difficult to sum up the musical relationship between Eberhard Weber and Jan Garbarek in just a couple of tracks, so these are clearly pointers to those who will feel compelled to hear more of their work together.
The remaining tracks are the bass solo “Closing Scene” from Weber’s 1993 album Pendulum, and “French Diary” from the 2000 release Endless Days. “Closing Scene” provides a chance to fully appreciate the melodic beauty as well as the fantastic technical prowess and general artistry that Weber brings to bear on his instrument. Though tape loops and other techniques are used to create tracks that sound as though there are several musicians playing on them, Weber constructs a multitextured all-bass environment that is unlike much the listener has heard before, yet which is not completely alien. It’s a real tour de force performance. “French Diary” is a Weber composition and arrangement on which he doesn’t play, leaving the performance to a bassless group comprised of Paul McCandless on soprano sax and English horn, Rainer Bruninghaus on keyboards, and Michael DiPasqua on drums and percussion. It’s a forward-looking piece that is the perfect ending for a completely sublime program of music.
If you enjoy the ECM aesthetic and are interested in hearing some gorgeous music featuring Weber playing his trademark 5-string electric bass as well as acoustic, then this is a must-have collection.