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Eberhard Weber: Hommage à Eberhard Weber

Mark Sullivan By

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Hommage celebrates the 75th birthday of bassist/composer Eberhard Weber. His distinctive custom-built, five-string electro-acoustic upright bass sound has been the foundation of many ECM recordings, almost right from the beginning: as leader of his own groups; longtime sideman for saxophonist Jan Garbarek; and other ECM recording artists including Ralph Towner, Gary Burton, Wolfgang Dauner, Pat Metheny and the Frankfurt Jazz Ensemble. He has been unable to perform since a 2007 stroke, but the first two selections in this live concert recording feature his playing through the use of old tapes.

So he is well-represented as both player and composer. And the group of musicians assembled is like "Old Home Week" for longtime ECM fans, with Weber bringing, in addition to guitarist Metheny, saxophonist Garbarek and vibraphonist Burton, past collaborators Paul McCandless and Danny Gottlieb back to the label for the first time in years.

The program opens with a very familiar sound: Garbarek's soprano saxophone, improvising over Weber's bass on music drawn from Resumé (2012), which Weber assembled using solos recorded during Jan Garbarek Group tours across a quarter century; so, in a way, this performance completes a circle. For "Hommage"—the longest piece on the program, commissioned by the SWR Big Band—Metheny took a similar approach. He used video recordings of Weber's solo improvisations to make him a virtual member of the ensemble (which Metheny describes as "visual sampling"), and based his composition around those improvisations.

Gimmicky as that description may sound, when Weber's bass enters (after a brief textural introduction) it's clear that he is present in the music much as he would have been if playing live. Over the course of just over half an hour, Metheny's composition moves from one musical idea to another, like a suite. Gottlieb's shimmering cymbals are like a time machine recalling Metheny's early years with the label, and Metheny and Burton both contribute elegant solos. One memorable section finds bassist Scott Colley in a virtual bass duet with Weber, a completely natural sounding call-and-response. Weber's taped performance has the last word, closing the piece in a gentle coda.

The rest of the album is devoted to imaginative big band arrangements of Weber tunes drawn from several recordings in his ECM catalog. Weber says "I let them surprise me with choices of pieces they considered usable and inspiring." "Touch" comes from Yellow Fields (1975), with solos from Burton and SWR trombonist Ernst Hutter. "Maurizius," first heard on 1982's Later That Evening, is arranged and conducted by Michael Gibbs and features solos from Burton and McCandless (who appeared on the original recording). The same soloists grace Resumé's "Tübingen," while "Notes After An Evening," from Weber's 1993 solo bass album (albeit with real-time looping) Pendulum, closes the set with its memorable theme reminiscent of the Scottish folk song "The Water is Wide." A lovely ending, it features solos from Burton, McCandless and SWR saxophonist Klaus Graf.

Rarely does a living musician receive such a beautiful tribute. Although there are opportunities lost—Garbarek and Metheny both play only on their own compositions, for example—it's hard to imagine any ECM fan who would not enjoy this recording.

Track Listing: Resumé Variations; Hommage; Touch; Maurizius; Tübingen; Notes After an Evening.

Personnel: Pat Metheny: guitars (2); Jan Garbarek: soprano saxophone (1); Gary Burton: vibraphone (2-7); Paul McCandless: oboe and soprano saxophone (4-7); Scott Colley: double bass (2); Danny Gottlieb: drums (2); SWR Big Band (2-7); Helge Sunde: conductor (2, 3, 5-7); Mike Gibbs: conductor (4).

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

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