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Eberhard Weber: Positive Pragmatism

John Kelman By

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Weber's stroke has been public knowledge for some time, but this is the first time that the bassist has chosen to speak about it at length. It comes on the heels of a new release, Résumé (ECM, 2013), that's a remarkable achievement, considering that Weber is no longer able to play his instrument. Even more remarkable than the feat of making the record is Weber's strength, pragmatism and positivity. Losing the ability to play an instrument, for some, would be the end of the world. And Weber certainly went through a couple years after the stroke thinking— hoping—that his strength would return. "My left-hand side doesn't function that well anymore," Weber explains. "It's difficult to walk. It's difficult use my hand. So at some point I had to say, 'That's it,' and I had to stop. But I continued to believe for some time, to practice a little bit here and there with my bass, right after my stroke. But one or two years after my stroke, I realized that even if I were to get better, I would never get back to my original state."



But if the stroke and losing the ability to play weren't enough, Weber had one more tragedy to come. "Because my wife [Maja] couldn't stand that I gave up, I did it more or less for her [practicing the bass], but after she died last year [in 2011], I said, 'Now it's time to say goodbye.' It made no sense to continue fooling myself about my disability."

Maja Weber will be known to fans of Weber's music because, with rare exception, it's been her distinctive artwork that has graced Weber's ECM discography, beginning with his debut for the label, 1974's classic The Colours of Chloë, straight through to Résumé, which does not have her design on the front cover but which contains one of her drawings inside the CD booklet. "We were together 42 years," says Weber. "She died just a few weeks before our 43rd anniversary. It was a liver tumor, and it was clear right away that it could not be operated on. More and more, we come into these situations. It's only when you get older that you realize they're getting close."

Just as Maja Weber's artwork will always be associated with Weber's ECM discography as a leader, despite the relatively small number of albums under his own name—just 13 over a 38-year period—the bassist's distinctive sound will be forever associated with the record label that was just five years old when Weber was first approached to make a recording. His discography may be diminutive, but it's been marked, since the very beginning, by a rare and remarkable consistency in quality, creativity and vision.

In addition to ten ECM recordings with Garbarek, beginning with Photo with Blue Sky and ending with Rites in 1998, Weber has appeared on other significant recordings for the label, including two by vibraphonist Gary Burton; one each by then up-and-coming guitarist Pat Metheny (who cites the bassist as an influence, to this day) and pianist Mal Waldron; and two particularly seminal recordings with guitarist Ralph TownerSolstice (1975) and Sound and Shadows (1977), in a quartet with Garbarek and Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen that has achieved something of a legendary status despite its relatively brief existence.

Like his recordings as a leader, including three releases with the group that became known as Colours, perhaps Weber's best-known group—featuring saxophonist Charlie Mariano and keyboardist Rainer Bruninghaus (another Garbarek Group regular) and including Yellow Fields (1976), Silent Feet (1978) and Little Movements (1980)—every recording graced by Weber's presence has, in some way, been defined by his inimitable sound. Relatively early in his career, Weber began experimenting with customized electric double basses, instruments that allowed him to adopt a tone that was simultaneously organic and processed.

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