Hommage à Eberhard Weber (ECM 2463)

Weber Hommage

Hommage à Eberhard Weber

Pat Metheny guitars
Jan Garbarek soprano saxophone
Gary Burton vibraphone
Scott Colley double bass
Danny Gottlieb drums
Paul McCandless English horn, soprano saxophone
Klaus Graf alto saxophone
Ernst Hutter euphonium
Eberhard Weber bass (from tapes)
Michael Gibbs arranger, conductor
Ralf Schmid arranger
Rainer Tempel arranger
Libor Šíma arranger
SWR Big Band
Helge Sunde conductor
Concert organized and produced by Martin Mühleis, sagas productions
Recorded by SWR, January 2015, at Theaterhaus Stuttgart by Doris Hauser, Volker Neumann, and Boris Kellenbenz (technician)
Mixed at SWR Studio, Stuttgart, by Volker Neumann (engineer), Manfred Eicher, Eberhard Weber
Pat Metheny’s “Hommage” mixed in New York by Pete Karam
Mastering: Christoph Stickel at MSM Studios, Munich
An ECM Production in collaboration with SWR
Redaktion: Günther Huesmann
SWR Big Band Manager: Hans-Peter Zachary
U.S. release date: September 11, 2015

Bassist Eberhard Weber two-handedly defined a generation of sounds, resulting in some of the most iconic albums the ECM catalog has to offer. In recognition of his contributions to the arts of performance and recording, Weber received the Jazzpreis Baden-Württemberg lifetime achievement award on his 75th birthday, and was guest of honor at jubilee concerts held in January of 2015—proving that, despite the stroke that rendered him unable to play since 2007, Weber’s fire blazes on.

Among his illustrious torchbearers is guitarist Pat Metheny, who in a liner note for the album describes lasting indebtedness, having joined Weber on the classic Ring and Passengers (Weber also appeared on Metheny’s Watercolors). As one who has always made the most of technology to harmonious advantage, Metheny acknowledges the inspiration manifest “in the instruments that [Weber] had built to bring that sound into the air, crystallizing a sonic fingerprint that even all these years later remains as uniquely identifiable and fresh as it was on first hearing back then.” All of which makes it doubly celebration-worthy to see Metheny swimming again in ECM waters. His “Hommage” is, in fact, this disc’s centerpiece. A sprawling world unto itself, it includes its dedicatee as performer in the form of video footage of the improvising bassist projected onto a screen at stage rear, creating what the composer calls “my imagined virtual Eberhard.” The idea somewhat recalls the speech-to-melody experiments of composer Steve Reich, with whom Metheny has worked and whose influence can be felt here in certain passages throughout the half-hour-plus suite.

Germany’s SWR Big Band, backing a chain of venerable soloists, brings this and the other works on the program to a resurrected state, here supporting solos from the formidable Gary Burton (vibes), Scott Colley (bass), Danny Gottlieb (drums), and Metheny himself. The opening is everything that Weber’s music ever was and will be: verdant, atmospheric, and fully developed right out of the box. The videographic Weber is almost ghostly, but over time feels less like an avatar and more a viable player whose creativity shines with unquenchable force. Metheny navigates their virtual interactions deferentially at first before easing into fuller integration, while the band handles this transformation with grace at director Helge Sunde’s exacting touch. The latter’s consistency ensures that Burton’s soloing is both the vessel and the water keeping it afloat; that Colley’s bassing, while distinctly Weberian, also adds its own shades to the spectrum; that Gottlieb’s adornments feel like more than just that; that Metheny’s flights always have their shadow in full view; and that Weber’s archival reveries transcend the limits of space and time they’ve been allotted.

Before this, listeners are treated to a far more intimate introduction in Jan Garbarek’s “Résumé Variations.” Based on the album of the same name, this piece finds the saxophonist improvising in his cinematic, clarion way around prerecorded bass lines. The two instruments intertwine in a way that only years of collaboration could produce, as if two massive continents of time were coming together in the least destructive abduction imaginable.

On the other side of Metheny’s juggernaut is a string of artfully pruned evergreens. “Touch” evokes the golden age of Yellow Fields. Featuring solos by Burton and Ernst Hutter on euphonium, and arranged by Ralf Schmid, this timeless jewel floats on a bed of vibraphone, moving in breezy fashion across its landscapes with the redolence of an old film magically restored. Its reach is matched by “Maurizius,” here arranged by Michael Gibbs and breathing with all the power, and more, of the original. Sharing solo duties with Burton is Paul McCandless, who carries his soprano saxophone to distant shores in this quintessential turn from Later That Evening. The same soloists carry over into an arrangement of “Tübingen” by Rainer Tempel, whose sense of flow meshes sympathetically with Weber’s. McCandless and Burton weave a carpet of textures through a stirring and complex sound that is equal parts somberness and joy.

Two reimagined songs from Pendulum close out the program: “Notes After An Evening” and, available as an exclusive bonus track via digital download, “Street Scenes.” Both are masterfully arranged by Libor Šíma, who gives them a certain heft. Burton and McCandless reappear, with alto saxophonist Klaus Graf adding his nocturnal lines to “Notes.” McCandless’s English horn, by contrast, burns like the sun in “Scenes,” balancing out cooler blasts from the band at large with energetic forecasting.

Given that Weber will never play again, one can’t help but find something bittersweet about these performances, built as they are on a legacy that, while nominally retired, lives on, their poignancy like a pair of lips pursed to a candle flame—yet which, instead of puffing it out, contributes to its glow.

Hommage Photo
(Photo courtesy of ECM)

Be sure to check out the DVD of these performances, available from Jazzhaus, which I have reviewed here.

Eberhard Weber review for The NYC Jazz Record

The Jubilee Concert

At the summit of a prosperous career on stage and, following a decades-long stint with ECM Records, German bassist Eberhard Weber suffered a stroke and has not played since 2007. In October of 2015 (a year in which he also received the Landesjazzpreis Baden-Württemberg, a lifetime achievement award), jubilee concerts were held at the Theaterhaus in Weber’s hometown of Stuttgart to honor his 75th birthday and contributions to jazz.

This DVD of that same event features the SWR Big Band conducted in turns by Helge Sunde and Michael Gibbs, along with guests Jan Garbarek (saxophone), Gary Burton (vibraphone), Paul McCandless (reeds) and, returning to the fold, Pat Metheny (guitar). The latter’s “Hommage” is the centerpiece—a sprawling 30-minute composition built around archival video footage of Weber from the 1980s. More than any other musician on the roster, Metheny bottles the Weber-ian spirit like the lightning that it is.

In contrast to the sprightly figure on screen, the first image of the concert is of an aged Weber hobbling to his seat of honor by aid of a cane. Following this, his “Résumé” finds Garbarek improvising over a more recent audio recording. It’s a fitting way to start, given that Weber was such a fixture of Garbarek’s quartet. Much of what follows reflects almost somberly on a touching career. Arrangements by Ralf Schmid and Rainer Tempel of classic tunes from Weber’s golden age are showcases for Burton and McCandless while those by Gibbs rejuvenate “Maurizius” (from the 1982 album Later that Evening) and Benny Golson’s “Killer Joe.” But it’s the jovial energies of Libor Šíma, who reimagines “Street Scenes” and “Notes After An Evening” (both from 1993’s Pendulum), which win the day.

In the liner notes for Hommage à Eberhard Weber, the 2016 ECM album culled from this same event, Metheny waxes indebtedly about Weber’s “sonic fingerprint that even all these years later remains as uniquely identifiable and fresh as it was on first hearing back then.” As this landmark performance shows, Weber continues to innovate, even without strings at his fingertips.

(This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, of which a full PDF is available here.)

Eberhard Weber: Encore (ECM 2439)

Encore

Eberhard Weber
Encore

Eberhard Weber electric double bass, keyboards
Ack van Rooyen flugelhorn
Live recordings 1990-2007
Engineers: Walter Speckmann and Gert Rickmann-Wunderlich
Mixed and edited at Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines by Gérard de Haro and Sun Chung
Assistant engineer: Nicolas Baillard
Album produced by Manfred Eicher

Electro-bassist Eberhard Weber’s Encore continues where Résumé left off and is culled from the same tapes. As on the last album, a monumental achievement in and of itself, the music here came about during interludes played while touring with the Jan Garbarek Group between 1990 and 2007. Weber has fleshed out those solos in the studio with keyboards and, in a poignant surprise, the contributions of Dutch colleague Ack van Rooyen on flugelhorn. Die-hard fans will recognize van Rooyen from Weber’s 1974 debut, The Colours of Chloë, and will welcome his return for what will likely be Weber’s finale.

Weber

Weber’s instrument has been his dousing rod four decades running. The result of much customization and refinement, it took his playing in new and challenging directions, while also freeing him from the snares of its acoustic counterpart. Although he humbly sees the electric hybrid that would become his trademark as something of a mask behind which he learned to hide his lack of virtuosity, it’s plain to hear that he has defined a virtuosity all his own. Setting him apart is not only his sound, but also the robustness of his melodies. Whether created in the moment or meticulously crafted (every piece on this album, of course, being a combination of both), his songfulness captures something essential to the power of technology in the right hands.

As before, track titles are named for their places of origin. Rather than make any sort of emotional or thematic statement—aside, that is, from their indications of a musician’s traveling life—they serve as compass points in the relatively intangible cartography of musical development. What begins in “Frankfurt” as a thick, rubber-banded enclosure for van Rooyen’s low-flying lyricism and Weber’s own note thresholds ends in “Pamplona” with more primal, rhythmic tapping on strings and flashes of ageless energy. That said, we do well to avoid seeing these outer tracks as beginning and ending of a long journey. They are instead signposts made visible by the magical privilege of recorded media.

The range of Weber’s evocative power is on fullest display. At one end of the spectrum we find “Cambridge,” which swings its trunk like a gargantuan elephant, if not the arm of a person imitating one, before brighter, more playful textures take over. Subsequent modal explorations make Weber’s bass seem like a magnified oud shaped by a whimsical physics. At the other end are the enigmatic diversions at “Bradford,” a brilliant piece of clockwork rhythms and colorful shifts in texture, and a leaping carnivalesque from “Edinburgh.” Somewhere between the two are cinematic gems from “Rankwell” and “Klagenfurt.” Where one begins dreamily and sobers through van Rooyen’s soloing, the other twists a lucid dance into the stuff of fantasy, sending the flugelhorn off on a scouting mission into the unknown. There is, too, the stalking, catlike thing of “Sevilla,” in which rhythmic impulses skirt a line between realities.

Elsewhere, as in “Konstanz” and “Granada,” Weber unrolls richly woven carpets of synthesizer, so that by the time he exchanges telescope for microscope in “London,” we have that expanse thrumming already in our hearts. And even as we walk away thinking this may be the end of the line, we can rest assured that there is still much to learn by revisiting the past.

(To hear samples of Encore, click here.)

Eberhard Weber: Stages Of A Long Journey (ECM 1920)

Stages Of A Long Journey

Eberhard Weber
Stages Of A Long Journey

Gary Burton vibraphone
Jan Garbarek soprano and tenor saxophones
Rainer Brüninghaus piano
Eberhard Weber bass
Marilyn Mazur percussion
SWR Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra
Roland Kluttig conductor
Recorded in concert, March 23/24, 2005, Theaterhaus Stuttgart
Engineer: Michael Sandner
Concert produced by Martin Mühleis

Stages Of A Long Journey documents the best moments of two March 2005 concerts in Stuttgart celebrating the 65th birthday of Eberhard Weber. The bassist has, of course, been a mainstay at ECM, where his comparable talents as composer and arranger have found room to flourish since his breakthrough “Colours” discs of the seventies. This is his first live record for the label he calls home.

The album’s roster represents decades of inter- and intra-musical friendship, and dots a compass of profound collaboration. Saxophonist Jan Garbarek, in whose self-named group Weber has performed alongside many of the other featured musicians, returns the favor by casting his nets back to tunes in which he was never originally involved. The elliptical nature of it all brews fresh ideas and colorations, especially in the duo track “Seven Movements,” in which Garbarek’s soprano rides the ember-glow of Weber’s arpeggios like a bird on the wing.

Another evocative duo comes in the form of “Yesterdays.” The 1930s show tune pairs Weber with surprise guest (and oldest ally of them all) Wolfgang Dauner, he of the elusive Output, at the keys. In this conversation, one encounters the joy with which the bassist emotes. This makes it the most nostalgic portion of the program, which is perhaps why Weber foregoes his trusty electrobass and, in a rare turn, goes unplugged for a spell on the standard upright.

Another wizard of the keyboard, Rainer Brüninghaus, is a necessary presence for such a performance. Having contributed atmospheric details to so many of Weber’s tapestries, he lifts the classic “The Colours of Chloë”—which opens the five-part Birthday Suite—to new heights. The combination of bass and piano here reaches across and beyond the ensemble’s stretched canvas. Brüninghaus furthers the suite with his original “Piano transition,” as does percussionist Marilyn Mazur in her “Percussion transition,” both satellites orbiting Weber’s dreamlike “Maurizius” in telepathic gravitation. Moreover, Vibraphonist Gary Burton makes his mark on “Yellow Fields,” the suite’s final offering. Here, too, is where the final pieces of the puzzle work most intuitively, as the 90-piece Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Roland Kluttig, transitions across newly fertilized surroundings with its unassuming blend.

Because there has always been something of an orchestral heart beating in Weber’s music, one should not put too much stock into its actualization herein. This is duly apparent in “Silent Feet.” As the album’s opener, it is as likely an introduction as any for those hearing these pieces for the first time, but on its waves bobs the unblemished torch of interpretation that Weber has carried all these years, reaching full conflagration in a new take on Carla Bley’s “Syndrome.” This pet tune takes listeners into exciting directions as Weber navigates a shifting mosaic—sometimes in triplicate, sometimes duplicate—with controlled heat.Percussionist Reto Weber and beatboxing phenomenon Nino G join in the fun for “Hang Around” (a wordplay on Reto’s hang drum), much to the audience’s obvious delight. It is a playful interlude, but an equally conducive facet of the bassist’s prism, as is “The Last Stage Of A Long Journey,” a veritable origami figure of wind, land, and, above all, light.

Eberhard Weber’s music is a process of translation. Through it all, his bass is a visceral, thrumming magnet that seems to emerge from the very earth even while burrowing into it. His musical language is interlocking yet contrapuntal. Like an open book, its pages contain infinite wisdom but come together at the spine. All the more appropriate that Weber should end solo with “Air.” A summation but also a beginning, it is a badge of honor as only he can wear it.

Eberhard Weber: Endless Days (ECM 1748)

Endless Days

Eberhard Weber
Endless Days

Eberhard Weber bass
Paul McCandless oboe, english horn, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone
Rainer Brüninghaus piano, keyboards
Michael DiPasqua drums, percussion
Recorded April 2000 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Electric bassist Eberhard Weber, one of the most recognizable depth-sounders of European improvisation, with Endless Days continues the journey charted so boldly across ECM’s fertile map. True to form, he breaks the jazz mold that searches him, instead making use of orchestral sweeps and precisely notated forms. Solos, per se, are few and far between. The only exceptions are “A Walk In The Garrigue” and “Solo For Bass,” the latter of which presages Weber’s sure-to-be-seminal Résumé. With liquid touch, he dances, turns on a molecule, and settles into warmth.

The instrumentation of Endless Days is as intimate as its sound is expansive. Multi-reedist Paul McCandless, keyboardist Rainer Brüninghaus, and percussionist Michael DiPasqua—all longtime allies—comprise a quartet of unveiled lyricism. The seesawing keys of “Concerto For Bass” fade in on a lush vista as only Weber can articulate. Skittering percussion hurtles us across a tessellation of water and land as an oboe cranes its neck, birdlike, in anticipation of a storm. A soft keyboard drone provides ample soil for Weber’s pliant germinations, which in characteristic fashion build majestic tidal waves from mere ripples in “French Diary.” Here DiPasqua and McCandless flank an itinerant piano to the rhythm of an internal clock before ending in a pinprick of light, adding a new star to the shadows of “Nuit Blanche.” This cinematic piece emotes through a sepia veneer of whisky and unrequited love, dripping like a tree after rain. “Concerto For Piano” brings the band up to full speed. Playful touching of the keys adds unexpected angles. The title track has the makings of a folk song unfolding in real time, fashioning from its cellular vocabulary set a full-bodied text. This program of otherwise new material ends with a throwback to Weber’s Little Movements, reworking from that 1980 album its opening composition, “The Last Stage Of A Long Journey.” Flowing arpeggios float the leaves of Brüninghaus’s pianism along an unbroken river and find their angelic alter ego in McCandless, whose soprano saxophone draws a thread from heart to ritual.

Eternally refreshing in Weber’s work is the comfort that titles are immaterial—so evocative is his sound-world that it tells us a different story every time, a story so familiar it seems to emanate from the listener. All that’s left to ask: What stories will it convey to you?

Eberhard Weber: Résumé (ECM 2051)

Résumé

Eberhard Weber
Résumé

Eberhard Weber electric double bass, keyboards
Jan Garbarek tenor and soprano saxophones, selje flute
Michael DiPasqua drums, percussion
Recorded in concert 1990-2007
Recording engineers: Walter Speckmann and Gert Rickmann-Wunderlich
Produced by Manfred Eicher

There’s a reason why songs on a CD are called “tracks.” Each takes us on a journey somewhere, and no jazz bassist sports the conductor’s hat in quite Eberhard Weber’s way. Over the course of 1000+ concerts with the Jan Garbarek Group, the German bassist/composer has for decades enthralled listeners with unimaginable pathways, all the while defining and redefining a sound for the ages. Each of those concerts featured a solo entr’acte, wherein fomented some of his most extraordinary ideas. Résumé consolidates a cohesive selection of these in a fresh program of eternal ideas. More than mere interludes, each is a marker of the respective location that titles it.

Weber 1

Weber devotees will recall his 1988 Orchestra (link), half of which placed him in a solo spotlight. If that memorable record gave early and lasting insight into his uncompromising ear for melody, then Résumé furthers the crucible’s purpose in boiling down to the essence of who he is. This is Weber in the flesh, in no way obscured by the spontaneous loops, forged in real time, that issue from his electronic paraphernalia. Aside from these ghostly selves, his is not truly solitary endeavor throughout, for he also has a sprinkling of help from drummer Michael DiPasqua and saxophonist Jan Garbarek, the latter also on the selje flute. The overtones of this Norwegian folk instrument add blush to the canvases of “Karlsruhe” and “Bath.” The first paints arco flight paths like the steps of cranes lingering in the scent of freshly harvested rice paddies. The second is angular and playful, and finds Weber tying his bow into an assortment of harmonic knots before darkening into a heavy drone.

Such contrasts can be found as much within tracks as between them, though nowhere more acutely than in “Liezen.” The program’s opener is a window into the heart of a man whose artistry is heart incarnate. Lush chords usher us down a gallery of warm emotions, its walls decorated by the vibrant palettes of wife Maja that grace so many of his past album covers. Swinging from delicate pizzicato branches, Weber strings more robust vines through a germinating landscape. Keyboards scatter like windblown blossoms as Weber dances into the crowning night. The profundity of his intuition comes to fruition in “Heidenheim,” which weaves DiPasqua’s sparkle through looped matrices, each a world in a pocket fed to us in a trail of crumbs. Percussion and strings crosshatch again in “Amsterdam” and “Bochum.” Both of these, with their Steve Reichean marimba pulse, provide rich textural detail and irresistible propulsion. “Lazise” brings us out of the tunnel and into a wintry countryside, where a carnival of the mind awaits our arrival.

Garbarek’s reeds haunt the murkiest coves, fully a porpoise coaxed toward the setting sun while schools of fish swim spirals in the briny deep. With a presence like light through leafy shadow, he drops some of his most mystical sopranism on record into “Tübingen.” Here the feeling is of song, of evocativeness.

Weber’s fingers are feet, their paths still radiant all these years later. His traveler’s mind brings photographic clarity to every locale. Of Santiago we see the snowcapped mountains and spired churches, feel the swoon of star-crossed lovers whose bodies meet only under cover of dreams. In “Wolfsburg” we skim across water and technology, ending on a high signal cast into the world at large. Like its namesake, “Marburg” is a towering architectural node, leaving “Grenoble” nestled in its Alpine settlement, where cinematic strings blend us into terra firma.

Weber 2
(Photo by Jörg Becker)

This is more than a résumé in the sense of being a mere list of past accomplishments, for it engenders new ones through our experiencing of them. Like the crowd whose voices occasionally appear, we can only show our appreciation from far below, reading familiar shapes into every passing cloud.

(To hear samples of Résumé, click here.)

Eberhard Weber: Pendulum (ECM 1518)

Eberhard Weber
Pendulum

Eberhard Weber bass
Recorded Spring 1993, München
Engineer: Jochen Scheffter
Produced by Eberhard Weber

Eberhard Weber, perhaps best known as bassist for the Jan Garbarek Group, in addition to his own string of classic ECM albums as leader throughout the 1970s and 80s, brings his 5-string electric upright into a more focused spotlight with Pendulum. This solo date from 1993 marks yet another evolutionary step in this unmistakable musician, whose wings discover fresh space in which to flap in “Bird Out Of Cage.” Through its menagerie of overdubs and loops, Weber navigates the pops and jagged peaks of spontaneous creation. Yet despite its skyward beginnings, Pendulum tells an earthbound story that turns in its own cycle of life. Maternal shores skirt paternal oceans in “Notes After An Evening,” while in “Delirium” Weber unfurls visceral diversions against a droning canvas. “Children’s Song No. 1” picks up the thread, swaying to the rhythm of a playground swing, and continues to spin it into “Street Scenes.” Playful harmonics carry over into the meditative “Silent For A While,” reaching out to the birds that brought us here. The title track hones a robust thematic edge, dancing its slow dance across a hundred dreams and lifetimes, leaving “Unfinished Self-Portrait” to drip equal parts whimsy and grandiosity into the comforting “Closing Scene,” tingling with the taste of destiny.

With unerring delicacy yet with a weightiness that oozes security, Weber treats his bass at times pianistically, at times chorally, and often as both at once on an album that offers an intimate look at his compositional sensitivity. One of his absolute triumphs in that quiescent, fluid way he has.

Eberhard Weber: Orchestra (ECM 1374)

 

Eberhard Weber
Orchestra

Eberhard Weber bass, percussion, keyboards
Herbert Joos fluegelhorn
Anton Jillich fluegelhorn
Rudolf Diebetsberger French horn
Thomas Hauschild French horn
Wolfgang Czelustra trombone
Andreas Richter trombone
Winfried Rapp bass trombone
Franz Stagl tuba
Recorded May/August 1988 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Carlos Albrecht
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Despite an overt lack of the very instruments implied by the title of this mysterious effort from bassist Eberhard Weber, it is far from misleading, for the orchestra is in our minds, and in Weber’s heart as he emotes with the fullness of his instrument. The album divides itself between two distinct halves. The first of these hones emphasis on the solo. Weber is the foreground, flexing like the backbone of a creature whose anatomy is otherwise invisible. After the fluttering opening statement of “Seven Movements,” the palette warms into a lush ostinato, which only seems to accompany itself as it coils its golden threads into a brass-gilded frame. Some percussive death throes provide rare drama. “Broken Silence” features a delicate arco bass soaring low above its droning shadow toward the horizons of “Before Dawn.” This, a gorgeous spell working its lilting magic like a funhouse mirror, except that here we find not laughter or distortion, but an expansion of our sonic worldview. Weber jazzes things up for “Just A Moment,” riding a slingshot into “Air,” itself but a pliant reed in a pond, a cattail waiting to cast its children into the wind.

“Two Early To Leave” blends a congregation of brass into tremulous strings, thereby evoking the sweeps of Weber’s earlier work and inaugurating us into the breathtaking second half. We continue with “One Summer’s Evening,” floating sinuous lines along a current of synthesizer. The tender solo of “Daydream” winds its embrace against a sunny drone, while the darker emotional urgency of “Trio” drops itself into a deep sleep, where it dreams of the “Epilogue,” a forlorn path tread by pizzicato footsteps until it is flattened and no longer kicks up dust.

Orchestra is Weber at his purest. A lovely exposition of his talents, technical and melodic alike. Certainly not the one you’ll want to start with, but by no means a shabby place to spend the night before continuing on your journey.

Eberhard Weber: Chorus (ECM 1288)

 

Eberhard Weber
Chorus

Eberhard Weber bass, synthesizer
Jan Garbarek soprano and tenor saxophones
Ralf Hübner drums
Recorded September 1984 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

One might easily switch the title of Eberhard Weber’s Chorus with that of Fluid Rustle and none would be the wiser. Where the latter brims with voices and color, this relatively monochromatic effort is more like a shift of clothing in the shadows. Until this point, Weber’s ECM projects had been inclined toward epic statements. These ranged from overwhelmingly sun-drenched reveries (The Following Morning) to moonlit fields of introspection (Later That Evening). With the release of Chorus, however, Weber reached a new level of intimacy. Joined only by Jan Garbarek on soprano and tenor saxophones and Ralf Hübner (one of Germany’s most important jazz drummers), Weber pares his sonic brush for a new kind of script.

Over the course of seven unnamed parts, we find all the staples of the Weber experience. The, yes, fluid electro-bass and synth drone of Part I will be familiar to the Weber enthusiast, only here we encounter something quite different. Where before these territories engulfed us, now they are painted inside us. Similarly, every note from Weber’s bass in Part II is a ripple that finds only slight resistance from our inner walls as it expands toward the oncoming night, but ever with the dawn in mind. Garbarek floats his gorgeous lines one drop at a time, melting through the doublings of Parts III and IV and on to the arco strains of Part V. This scribbled palette cleanser slides into the pulsing depths of Part VI. Here the band achieves something special, making for the suite’s most powerful nodes of emotion. The final part eases us into a lovely thread of electric piano that makes this one of Weber’s most perfect constructions and beyond reason enough to own the album.

As I revisit Chorus for this review, the police sirens loudening and fading outside my window remind me of the transformative power of its music, which makes of those sirens a bird of light screaming across the canvas of the sky. Like the fade on which it ends, it leaves its body behind—a kite cut from its string which, instead of falling, continues floating ever higher until it burns quietly in the sun.