Eberhard Weber: Once Upon A Time (ECM 2699)

Eberhard Weber
Once Upon A Time (Live In Avignon)

Eberhard Weber bass
Concert recording, August 1994
Théâtre des Halles, Avignon
Recording producer and engineer: Gérard de Haro
Mixed May 2021 at Studios La Buissonne
Cover painting: Maja Weber
Cover background: Thomas Wunsch
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher
Release date: November 5, 2021

In 1994, during a solo European tour, bassist Eberhard Weber appeared at the Théâtre des Halles in Avignon under the auspices of the Festival International De Contrebasse, organized by Barre Philips. Much of the material presented in this recording came to the stage by way of Pendulum and Orchestra, echoes of which germinate seeds given more time to sprout. Recognizing familiar themes throughout this set of seven is as joyous as experiencing how much they change in a live context.

Setting the tone for this traversal is Weber’s “Pendulum,” a meditation that gives both rhythmic underpinnings and flights of fancy their space to sing. This is the signature of Weber’s overhanded style: he allows all gestures to make use of the air. His five-string custom instrument is an extension of his body, articulating the balance of playfulness and inner pulse as only he can.

“Trio For Bassoon And Bass” makes flowing use of overdubs for an intimate orchestra. In this composition, Weber allows the bass to interpret itself—a form of therapy that sends blood to the ears where it is needed. Without so much as a blink of interruption, he allows motifs to spread beneath the subcutaneous layers of our listening like tattoos in sound. This tune in particular allows him to flex his virtuosic muscles with unmatched stride and depth of character. Astounding here are less the denser rises and more the quieter passages in which he brings out his most artful details—each affording an unimpeded view into his heart as a musician.

The faster excursions are breathtaking in their ways. Take “Ready Out There,” for instance, which clarifies its purpose from the first step. Its otherworldly atmosphere is superseded only by its harmonic language, through which is expressed a novel’s worth of environments, actions, and enough moral glue to hold them all together.

“Silent For A While” leverages more understated overdubbing, Weber’s swelling loops drifting toward an island of promise. Thus, he turns colors into structural elements. “Delirium” likewise exhibits a melodic edge that only sharpens with speed. A faint drone gives him just enough backbone to turn an invertebrate impulse into a vertebrate melody that shines with conviction. 

“My Favorite Things” is yet another overdubbed gem. That the backdrop stays within the same lilting key makes the melody taut in its reflectiveness. It also gives Weber freer license to make of it what he will, turning the title into a mission statement rather than a pleasantry. “Air” ends things without self-accompaniment. A tender and breath-heavy farewell, it gives way to restfulness and active dreams—and that is where it remains.

There is an unshakable poignancy to this album, as underscored by its title, which implies the story of a bygone era. The age of this document makes its appearance 27 years later ghostlike in reminiscence of a genius whose future remains uncertain. Either way, we live with the knowledge that such glimpses of eternity are here to savor thanks to ECM’s dedication to contributions that will outlive us all.

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