The one thing that America can learn from other countries is that art in general, and jazz in particular, is supported in many ways. Jazz is recognized as a vibrant art form and funded at governmental levels and through popular support. Stages Of A Long Journey is a wonderful example, the result of the city of Stuttgart not only supplying the venue but its SWR Radio Symphony Orchestra for concerts held in honor of bassist Eberhard Weber's sixty-fifth birthday in 2005.
Weber has never been known as "just" a bassist, but rather also as a composer of sonic colors who uses an orchestra when he desires a larger palette. Having recorded for ECM almost since inception, Weber could be considered one of the creators of the ECM sound and aesthetic, which has never been strictly about jazz as defined by many people.
Last Stages' core band brings together players with whom Weber has recorded on ECM over the years, both as a leader and sideman. Vibraphonist Gary Burton, saxophonist Jan Garbarek and pianist Rainer Bruninghaus all go back over thirty years with Weber, with the bassist continuing to play with Bruninghaus and percussionist Marilyn Mazur in Garbarek's current touring band. Guest pianist Wolfgang Dauner goes back even further, having played with Weber prior to ECM's inception.
Playing a hybrid electro-acoustic bass with extra strings for extended range, Weber has an immediately recognizable sound and technique. While this is his show, his melodic and forceful playing naturally propels him to the front as an equal member of the band, indeed defining the group's sound.
However, almost immediately, Weber turns expectations on their head with Carla Bley's "Syndrome," on which he plays a wicked walking bass line (to audience applause), driving the tight and cooking band. Despite the fact that he rushes just a bit, during a duet interlude with Mazur when she plays everywhere but on the beat, the tune is fun and terrific jazz.
The writing for the orchestra, which adds musical commentary and accompaniment to the opening "Silent Feet," the five-part "Birthday Suite that includes "The Colours of Chloë," "Maurizius," and "Yellow Fields," and finally "The Last Stage Of A Long Journey," is light and transparent and not overbearing, containing many instances of jazz, rather than classical, rhythms.
"Seven Movements," a duo with Garbarek, positions these two masters as equal partners. Garbarek's highly developed personal sound and style is bent to different purposes and is extremely satisfying. Weber is simply amazing, and this piece is a perfect demonstration of melodic accompaniment.
Equally impressive is Weber's duet with Dauner on Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays," as the bassist manages to become a second melodic instrument while, at the same time, accompanying Dauner.
Stages Of A Long Journey, Weber's first live recording, is both a wonderful summation of a long career and the chance to hear a band of past and present friends making old music new, which is the strength of jazz.
Silent Feet: Syndrome; Yesterdays; Seven Movements; Birthday Suite: The Colours of Chloë;
Piano Transition; Maurizius; Percussion Transition; Yellow Fields; Hang Around; The Last Stage
of a Long Journey; Air.
Eberhard Weber: bass (1, 2, 4-12); double bass (3); Gary Burton: vibraphone (1, 2, 5-9, 11); Jan
Garbarek: soprano saxophone (1, 4-9, 11); tenor saxophone (2, 5-9); Rainer Bruninghaus: piano
(1, 2, 5-9, 11); Marilyn Mazur: percussion (1, 2, 5-9, 11); SWR Radio Symphony Orchestra
Stuttgart, Roland Kluttig conductor: (1, 5-9, 11); Wolfgang Dauner: piano (3); Nino G.: beatbox
(10); Reto Weber: hang (10).
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