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Eberhard Weber: Eberhard Weber: Encore

John Kelman By

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In a time when too many things that seem unfair create victims rather than heroes, the world needs more people like Eberhard Weber. Struck down with a major stroke in 2007, the renowned German bassist found himself without the strength required in his left hand to be able to play the custom-built, electric five-string double bass that, in various incarnations, has defined a sound as instantly recognizable as any bassist on the planet.

That would have been enough to stop anyone in their tracks, and turn them into a victim. Instead—as he recounts in a 2013 All About Jazz interview, the pragmatic Weber walked away from the instrument with few, if any, regrets. "I'm very, very often asked by people: do I suffer because I can't play anymore," Weber recounted in that interview. "And I have to say, 'No, I don't suffer at all.' I'm not depressed. And I don't need it. My bass is still set up in my studio, and I can touch it, but I haven't touched it, certainly not in the last three years. I don't even look at it. I don't need it. It's the past for me."

Weber's outlook has facilitated a different approach to music-making first heard on Résumé, released the same year on the label where the bassist has parked his wagon for four decades: Munich's ECM Records. The music of Résumé—where Weber built compositions around bass solos culled from recordings made across a quarter century of live performances with label mate Jan Garbarek's group, using keyboards and the judicious use of guests—was light years away from the more group-oriented material of early albums like his 1974 ECM leader debut The Colours of Chloë or the three albums made with his subsequent Colours group and collected recently as one of the label's Old & New Masters Edition box sets, Colours (2010).

Still, Weber's voice remained unmistakable on Résumé—and not just because his inimitable bass playing was largely front and center. There's something indefinable but instantly recognizable about how Weber conceptualizes shape, his ability to find form and the way he conceives both harmony and melody. All of these elements coincide to make him such a significant contributor to the last four decades of contemporary music that a recent two-night celebration of the bassist's work not only featured past collaborators including Garbarek, Gary Burton and Paul McCandless performing Weber's music, but also a new piece— written, Résumé-like, around film clips of Weber performing live, but with a much broader palette of live musicians—by guitarist Pat Metheny, who played with Weber during the guitarist's early days in Burton's group and his own Watercolors (ECM, 1977)...and who continues to cite the bassist as a seminal influence to this day.

The aptly titled Encore could certainly be seen as Résumé, Part II in Weber's use of the same modus operandi: culling another 13 solos from the hundreds of hours recorded by Garbarek's live front of house engineer over the past 25 years, expanded into broader compositional form with the addition of his own keyboard orchestrations. Weber's bass solos were always more than just opportunities to demonstrate his instrumental acumen; instead, they acted as connective threads between songs in Garbarek's sets and thus, with clearly defined beginnings and endings, were inherently compositionally focused, even as they were spontaneously created in the moment.

But the connection to Résumé goes even further. Once again named simply after the cities in which the foundational soli were first recorded but not revealing the "when"—simply crediting "Live Recordings 1990-2007" in the CD booklet— that these thirteen compositions were, in fact, already completed and brought to the Résumé sessions doesn't mean that their not being used should suggest that they are in any way inferior remains.

Even at the time of his 2013 All About Jazz interview, Weber indicated that a follow-up to Résumé was more or less complete. In Encore's liner note interview with Karl Lippegaus, Weber is crystal clear: "I'd prepared a lot of pieces for Résumé and then chose a dozen of them almost randomly. Once I'd finished work on it, it struck me that another fifteen were left over. It wasn't until the concerts in January 2015, for my 75th birthday celebrations in Stuttgart Theatre, that [ECM label head] Manfred Eicher and I pondered the thought of continuing the Résumé idea. I can well and truly state that Encore is not made up of warmed-over leftovers. It's almost accidental that the first album had twelve pieces and the others were momentarily left out. To my mind the pieces were already finished; we just didn't mix them at the time. To avoid repetition, I invited the Dutch trumpeter Ack Van Rooyen for Encore. Here he plays his favourite instrument, the flugelhorn."

Indeed, inviting van Rooyen for Encore, rather then Résumé's Jan Garbarek and Michael DiPasqua—the drummer brought back by Weber, after years of inactivity, for the bassist's Endless Days (2001)—in some ways, also brings Weber's recording career full circle. The trumpeter also appeared (again solely on flugelhorn) on The Colour of Chloë, making such a strong impression—in particular on "An Evening with Vincent van Ritz," where, bolstered by a firmly swinging Weber and drummer Peter Giger, he delivered a truly career-defining solo—that his never garnering further international acclaim remains an unanswered question to this day. Suffice to say, his contributions to a handful of tracks across Encore's 45-minute program makes clear that he's lost none of his warm, inviting tone or compelling lyricism in the 41 years that have passed since he last recorded with the bassist.

That Weber has, once again, taken solo bass features—and, with the addition of keyboard orchestrations and, in some cases, looping to allow van Rooyen sufficient solo space—as the foundation for a suite of compelling compositions is a remarkable feat in and of itself: a kind of reverse-engineered approach to composition. A concluding space-filled fragment is made all the more definitive with the addition of synthesized marimba on "Klagenfurt" (which also features a brief, burnished solo from van Rooyen), leading into the initially metronomic "Bradford," where a similar texture this time provides both the pulse and melodic foil for Weber's ever-distinctive bass work.

These are but two examples of how Weber, with a very special set of ears, is able to hear the compositional potential in his archival live solos—the way a good photographer, with a unique eye, can see the artistic possibilities in what might seem to be a clearly defined scene, making them crystal clear to those for whom such things remain elusive. With all but two of the tracks prepared for the Résumé sessions now completed and released, Encore may well be Weber's swan song as a recording artist. But, as he said in the 2013 AAJ interview: "I'm vain enough to say that when I'm forced to do something, I'm sure that I will find something. I've no idea what that something I will find will be. I still believe in myself. As long as I can still think and talk, there will be something to come at some point."

A true hero, if Weber can remain so positive after all he's been through, then surely we can—and should—too.

Track Listing: Frankfurt; Konstanz; Cambridge; Rankweil; Langenhagen; Granada; Sevilla; London; Klagenfurt; Bradford; Edinburgh; Hannover; Pamplona.

Personnel: Eberhard Weber: electric double bass, keyboards; Ack Van Rooyen: flugelhorn.

Title: Eberhard Weber: Encore | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: ECM Records


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