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Eberhard Weber: Positive Pragmatism

John Kelman By

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Eberhard Weber— ColoursHe's been playing custom- built, five-string instruments since the mid-1970s, but he isn't particularly interested in discussing their specifics. "I almost get angry when people ask me, 'What kinds of strings do you use?' And then they get offended because I say, 'I don't know.' My last bass was built in Israel by an Israeli luthier, and he puts strings on it. I never asked what ones they were. I never asked him. These things just don't matter; I'm absolutely sure that anybody who has talent—take any wonderful violin player—he could play a concert, even on a school violin, and he would certainly sound OK. It doesn't have to be a Stradivarius." It's certainly true that were others to pick up Weber's bass, they would not sound anything like the bassist who, in addition to appearing on roughly 30 ECM recordings, was a charter member of the multinational United Jazz + Rock Ensemble— a group that included, among other significant players, Charlie Mariano, trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff, keyboardist Wolfgang Dauner, guitarist Volker Kriegel and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. During his early days as a session player, Weber also appeared—surprisingly, perhaps, but retrospectively crucial to his overall development—on albums ranging from mainstream guitarist Joe Pass' Intercontinental (MPS, 1970) and Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell's Poema en Guitar (MPS, 1967) to French violinist Stephanie Grapelli 's Afternoon in Paris (MPS, 1971) and fellow German, trumpeter Manfred Schoof's Reflections (Mood, 1983).

Still, while it may seem sad that Weber can no longer play the instrument that has been such a defining part of his life, he has a very clear response: "I'm very, very often asked by people: do I suffer because I can't play anymore. 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."

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."

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