Eberhard Weber: Positive Pragmatism

John Kelman By

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Fortunately, for Weber, he's been as skilful a composer as he has been a player. Still, with performance now a thing of the past, for Weber to continue in music, there was a rather significant problem. "When I realized I couldn't play bass anymore, Maja said to become a composer because people seemed to like my compositions. Then I analyzed my compositions, and I realized that whenever I wrote, it was always together with my bass. In other words, the sound of my bass is always very important. So suddenly, I realized I can't play bass anymore, and to be just a composer or an arranger, I really couldn't compete with all these young guys, who are so capable of doing everything. I realized I needed my bass, and so the question then was what to do."

Fortunately, Weber had already been considering something that would now prove serendipitous. "Before I did my album Pendulum (ECM, 1993), I was somehow afraid that I wouldn't have enough material for it because I didn't have a solo program yet to go on tour. It wasn't finished yet, and I thought that I had to do something to find out if I had enough ideas to make a record.

"So I asked Jan [Garbarek]'s sound engineer because he's a maniac. He used to record everything for himself on a DAT recorder. He recorded all the concerts for private reasons only; he didn't sell anything. He just wanted to have everything for himself. So I said to him, since I play all of these solo interludes between songs—sometimes five, six, seven, nine, twelve minutes—'Could you please cut them out for me and let me listen to what I did?' so I could maybe get some ideas for what to do. As it turned out, I finished Pendulum without them; I did not need all those tapes, and so I put them aside somewhere in a cupboard."

Flash forward nearly two decades, when Weber needed some of his own playing as grist for writing a new record. "And then I thought, I have all these recordings; maybe I could look through them and see if there's something I could use," Weber continues. "And so I started to listen to them. Unfortunately, I discovered that my DAT recorder was broken, and this media's now obsolete; you can't even repair the players anymore. But my brother-in-law still had one, and I asked him to take the DAT tapes and burn them onto CDs, which he did, so then I had all these CDs that I could listen to."

Eberhard Weber—OrchestraWhile Weber has done solo bass recordings before—in addition to Pendulum, which relied on looping and other technologies to create an album more orchestral in scope, and Orchestra (ECM, 1988), on which Weber scored for a brass ensemble on some tracks— Résumé represents an entirely different approach. Here, Weber took solos culled from a quarter century of performances with Garbarek and—with the addition of keyboards, judicious editing and, on a handful of tracks, guest contributions from the saxophonist and longtime Weber drummer, Michael DiPasqua—composed around these bass solos to turn them into something that he could never have envisioned at the time he first performed them as improvised interludes linking two songs in a Jan Garbarek Group set list.

"I had no real concept of how to use these interludes," Weber explains, "because, as you can imagine, one tune might end in A-flat minor, so I had to start in that key and develop something into the next tune, which might, for example, be in D major. So then I listened to all these recordings, one after the other—which was torture, of course; you start to hate yourself [laughs]. And then I realized I couldn't just put them one after the other. When you play on a tour and you do 20, 30 or 40 gigs, there is ultimately not so much variation because you're coming out of the same piece and going into the next one. It's never the same note for note because it's improvised, but the mood is kind of the same. You realize, during a tour, for example, that you very much like what you played the previous night and think about what else you can do with it the following night.

"So," Weber continues, "some of these solos were, in a certain way, very similar, and I realized I couldn't do what I wanted to do, which was to hang one after the other. And then I had another idea of bringing somebody else in who could play interludes between my solos. At this point, I wouldn't say I was desperate, but I lost interest in the work because I couldn't find any solution.

"Then, one year later Manfred Eicher told me, 'Why don't you start again?'" Weber continues. "And finally, after a year, I had this thought—this idea—and I started, and then while working with it, I developed some ideas of what to do. I also learned how [using music editing software] to copy solos, because there was so much editing to do here and there. I analyzed all these solos: one was a fast piece; one was a slow piece; one was more about sound. I selected them in colors, more or less. The solo from Hamburg, for example, started very fast, and then there was a slow part that goes fast again. I decided to eliminate the fast part because I didn't like it, but the slow part was very nice. So I cut out the slow part and tried to discover what else I could do with it."

"And, of course, I had a computer at home, and you don't need a mixing board anymore," Weber continues. "You can do it all at home. It's great. So I started to build things up, and I added my keyboards—a little piano, a little bass, a little violin, a little oboe, whatever. I started to become very satisfied and, in fact, became really excited and couldn't stop working on it. I have a lot more tunes ready, so if there's a question of doing a second album, it's already finished. The compositions are done; they just need final mixing."

The tracks on Résumé are simply named after the towns where the solos were first performed. "If I remember correctly, the earliest is from the late '80s, 1989 or something from around that time," says Weber, "and the last is from 2007. It's kind of interesting because it's the last track on Résumé, and it's the last recording that exists for me because the solo was recorded about two weeks before my stroke, and there are no other recordings. So this track, 'Grenoble,' is the last recording that exists anywhere of me playing bass."

With actual performance now a thing of the past, it's great news, then, that not only has Weber managed to find a way to continue writing and release an album that is still centered around his distinctive bass playing but he also already has the sequel to Résumé largely in the can—though he's yet to add any guest performers because, as he explains, doing so for Résumé was not an easy process.

Eberhard"There was another big problem with the current album," Weber says. "I had the idea, right away, of someone playing on the record. But then I realized—I was almost shocked—that there was no space. Because, when you play a solo [live] you don't want to be boring; you want to entertain the people. So you play and you play, and there's never any space. So in some pieces, I had to find there some bars, perhaps, that I could double up or triple up—maybe one or two bars—I could extend them and copy, copy, copy. I could copy several bars to make a piece which he [Jan Garbarek] could play to, and it worked out. Nobody realizes that it's a loop underneath the solos."

Garbarek's contributions may be relatively brief, entering, for example, halfway through "Amsterdam" to deliver a solo built around a looped segment, meshing almost seamlessly with Weber's arco bass on the gentler "Tübingen," and contributing a delicate selje flute to the closing minutes of "Bath." But not unlike his relatively brief contributions to Elixir (ECM, 2008) by Marilyn Mazur, the Danish percussionist on another Garbarek Group alum, the saxophonist's contributions to Résumé lend the record added shape and color.

"This has not, however, been planned out for the second album," Weber says. "I would have to find space in case I wanted to ask somebody else to play again. On the other hand, I've never liked to repeat myself too often. So the big question now is having enough ideas; I'm sure Jan would volunteer to play another piece for me on a new album, but the real question is whether I should do it. I've given it some time for thought. When I publish that, there is a second album ready; it might be thought that Jan has already played on tracks that weren't used on Résumé, which is not the case. Anyway, it's very open, and I haven't decided yet; we're going to wait at least one more year, as I don't want to overdo it."

The other guest on Résumé is Michael DiPasqua, a drummer who was quite active on ECM in the 1980s, appearing on Garbarek's Wayfarer (ECM, 1983) and It's OK to listen to the gray voice (ECM, 1984) (on which Weber also performed) as well as Weber's Later That Evening (ECM, 1985)—with guitarist Bill Frisell, pianist Lyle Mays and multi-reedist Paul McCandless—which stands out as one of the bassist's finest group records after the dissolution of Colours, a milestone in a career filled with milestones. But following his flurry of activity in the mid-'80s, DiPasqua disappeared from sight until Endless Days (ECM, 2002), Weber's first group recording since his 1985 trio recording, Chorus.

"Mike gave up playing," Weber explains. "He married an Austrian woman, the two of them wanted to stay together, and he didn't want to be on the road anymore for private reasons, so at some point he gave up playing because he inherited The Subway chain for Florida from his father. So he now controls the majority of Subway restaurants in Florida; in other words, we don't have to play a benefit concert for him, that's for sure [laughs].

"We'd fallen out of touch," Weber continues, "only speaking rarely, and at some point I thought, 'Hmm, I like his playing a lot,' so I contacted him, and I spoke to his wife, and she said, 'Oh yeah, he misses playing.' She even said that if Jan needed another drummer, he would practice like hell and play again because he really did miss it. He was a great drummer, and I reactivated him for Endless Days. He hadn't played for 14 years, and he told me that he practiced a lot for that session. But he also said he was frustrated because in 14 years, you lose a lot of technical ability; but I thought that he managed to do it all really nicely.

"And then I thought, again, why shouldn't I ask them to play on Résumé," Weber continues. "He said, 'Yes, I can try,' but in the end, it's been even longer since he last played. Now he is saying that he doesn't think he will continue playing. He realizes now that the young drummers, they play the hell out of the drum set, and he just can't keep up with them."



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