Rainer Brüninghaus: Continuum (ECM 1266)

 

Rainer Brüninghaus
Continuum

Rainer Brüninghaus piano, synthesizer
Markus Stockhausen trumpets, fluegelhorn
Fredy Studer drums
Recorded September 1983 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

For his second ECM album as leader, keyboardist Rainer Brüninghaus sidestepped the Eberhard Weber nexus in favor of this unique trio outfit with trumpeter Markus Stockhausen and drummer Fredy Studer, with whom he recorded a few albums on through the early nineties. Though none of the musicianship will have you bowing down in worship, the compositions are the real strength of the album. The lush spread of synths and horns in “Strahlenspur” welcomes us into the sort of affirmative warmth that one would expect from Pat Metheny, while the icy backdrop of “Stille” moves far more contemplatively through Stockhausen’s gently unfurling banners. The title track shuttles Brüninghaus’s fine pianism through a loom of drums in the album’s shortest but most uplifting passage. The airy “Raga Rag” is by contrast, at 11 minutes, the longest. As might an airplane’s white trail, it heals slowly like a cut across the sky’s blue skin. The superb trumpeting sets Brüninghaus off on an ethereal tangent, the heel of every winged step nipped by Studer’s intuitive timekeeping. “Schattenfrei” is another short and sweet dialogue, and leaves us well informed to navigate the final expectorations of “Innerfern” with confidence. Each new turn bleeds into an uncharted solar system. From the saccharine yet uplifting ornamentation of a flanged sequencer to Stockhausen’s careening off into the farthest reaches of the universe, it is a transcendent way to end things.

Brüninghaus’s style and ECM’s production values feel like old friends, and in so being welcome us into their friendship in the listening. One need only pick up this thoughtful album to join their circle.

Rainer Brüninghaus: Freigeweht (ECM 1187)

 

Rainer Brüninghaus
Freigeweht

Rainer Brüninghaus piano, synthesizer
Kenny Wheeler fluegelhorn
Jon Christensen drums
Brynjar Hoff oboe, English horn
Recorded August 1980 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

After bringing his Midas touch to the projects of Eberhard Weber, it was only a matter of time before Rainer Brüninghaus would be given an opportunity to lead, and did so at last to soaring effect on Freigeweht (Set Free by the Wind) with a group of sympathetic musicians and a compositional aptitude to match. Over the space of six fairly extended pieces, we find the keyboardist in many facets. Whether it’s sharing rhythmic savvy with Kenny Wheeler in “Stufen” (Steps) or swapping runes with Brynjar Hoff on English horn in “Die Flüsse hinauf” (Upstream), his hands abide in every blissful moment. Brüninghaus also makes orchestral use of synthesizers, especially in the airborne “Spielraum” (Elbow Room) and “Radspuren” (Wheel Marks). Wheeler’s chromatic soloing throughout only underscores the feeling of flight, even as a rolling pianism cascades as if down the throat of a thirsty deity. Hoff’s oboe shares the ghostly body of “Täuschung der Luft” (Air Illusion) with a mounting drone, reborn in the sequenced arpeggios of the title track, on which we end. The oboe’s magic abounds, married to its surroundings by Wheeler’s irresistible binding force. As widely cast as Brüninghaus’s net is, the interactions with Jon Christensen delineate his art in clearest relief. These alone are the album’s DNA.

Admirers of Tim Story will find much to please the ears here, as well as be delighted by the gilded edges of improvisatory bliss that only ECM can bring. This is intensely imagistic music that is tangible enough to hold and lose ourselves in slumber.

Eberhard Weber: Colours (ECM 2133-35)

 

 

 

Eberhard Weber
Colours

Eberhard Weber bass
Charlie Mariano soprano saxophone, shenai, nagaswaram, flutes
Rainer Brüninghaus keyboards, piano, synthesizer
Jon Christensen drums
John Marshall drums, percussion

“I would not be you, El-ahrairah. For Frith has given the fox and the weasel cunning hearts and sharp teeth, and to the cat has given silent feet and eyes that see in the dark, and they are gone awry from Frith’s place to kill and devour all that belongs to El-ahrairah.”
–Richard Adams, Watership Down

For six years, Eberhard Weber’s Colours enthralled the European tour circuit. A unique entry into the growing number of fusion outfits of the seventies, Weber charted a distinctly introspective path into jazz’s most unanswerable questions. The ensemble’s inimitable blend of improvisational and chamber music aesthetics was a perfect fit for ECM, not so much filling a gap as defining one. By the time he had recorded for the label, Weber had already honed a most distinctive skill, brought to its worthiest fruition on his custom electrobass, and was even present in Wolfgang Dauner’s much-neglected Output. Without a doubt, Colours created some of the label’s most mellifluous music. The sound is unmistakable, coiling like a snake around some of the most gorgeous atmospheres to grace your ears.

Yellow Fields (ECM 1066)
Recorded September, 1975 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

With “Touch” we are immediately privy to a groove-oriented game between piano and bass. The lush, open sound is heightened by the presence of synth strings, prefiguring Weber’s later orchestral collaborations. Charlie Mariano’s soprano floats with positive energy and unbounded enthusiasm as the strings morph into trembling sirens. Jon Christensen adds backbone to otherwise invertebrate music. Weber is subdued in this first track, leaving Mariano to take the lead with a soulful stride toward a quick fadeout, leaving us wanting more of what could have been.

“Sand-Glass” begins with water droplets and the occasional artfully placed rim shot. High notes on bass provide a constellatory framework. Within these borders, seemingly drawn but only imagined, Mariano solos like a comet, his sentiment flaring against a limpid night. Mariano flaps his wings around the fuselage of Weber’s bass line before being rocked to sleep in an electric piano cradle. Inspirations grow more pronounced as Mariano picks up the shenai, a quadruple-reed North Indian oboe that tunnels into the brain like a shawm. We ride this wave until the drums pick us up and drop us back into a shattered world of aftershocks and quieting energy.

The title track is an auditory hermit. With the theme quickly dispensed with, improvisation turns joyful fancy into gorgeous abandon. All the while, discipline reigns as abstractions build into a more melodic whole in which the sound and the message are one and the same. Weber takes a more supportive tack, allowing Brüninghaus a cosmic solo on electric piano. Statements conveyed and time regained, the band wraps up with a fleeting thematic revival amid an interlacing of rhythms and supportive flourishes.

Lastly, we merge onto the “Left Lane,” which opens with a pensive bass, soon joined by electric piano. Christensen defibrillates, turning this slow drive into a cruise. The piano sings in its higher regions before trickling down like rain on a window. Weber returns to spark a new groove, moving from elegiac to jazzy in a flash. A seemingly tame sax solo quickly turns dramatic, opening our hearts to a visceral farewell.


Original cover

Silent Feet (ECM 1107)
Recorded November 1977 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

“Seriously Deep” throws a light blanket of tender drones and electric piano, quilted with gorgeous solos on soprano sax and bass. Steady rhythms (hereon provided by ex-Soft Machine drummer John Marshall) turn something otherwise mournful into life-affirming joy. The title is not a pretentious statement of the music’s emotional cache, but rather a description of its physical path as it digs toward the center of the earth. The second, and title, track of the album’s modest three is an ironic one, requiring active hands to evoke silent feet. The helix that is Weber and Brüninghaus spirals in place as cymbals connect like base pairs within, thus leading to one of the latter’s most captivating pianistic passages. It is the kind of balanced exuberance that characterizes Pat Metheny at his most potent stretches of imagination. Stellar breath control from Mariano plays beautifully off Weber’s every move, making for one of the finest cuts in the collection. We end nocturnally, watching with “Eyes That Can See In The Dark.” A smattering of percussion sets off a wooden flute in a floating auditory reverie. While one might think that an electric bass would upset this delicate atmosphere, Weber is one of the few who can pull it off with such fluid precision. From this pool arises a specter of winds, blown like gusts of air from pursed lips across outstretched hands. Again, Mariano turns out some incredible soloing to finish.

Those who, like me, grew up reading Watership Down will doubly appreciate the occasional references Weber draws from the classic novel. “Silent Feet” and “Eyes That Can See In The Dark” both refer to a central creation myth among the story’s protagonists, a herd of rabbits fleeing in exodus from the warren they once called home. Storytelling becomes a central diversion in these hard times, and the origins narrative is a favorite: At a council of the animals, Frith the creator and sun god gives each its own ability to forever pursue the wily and celeritous rabbit. To the cat, he gives Weber’s cited traits, all the better to seek out its foe under cover of night. Respectfully, Weber takes a more romantic view of the hunt and allows us into the animal mind without malice.


Original cover

Little Movements (ECM 1186)
Recorded July 1980 at Studio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The vast drone of “The Last Stage Of A Long Journey” cuts a thick line below the Steve Kuhn-esque intro. Like the silent monolith of 2001: A Space Odyssey, it mystifies as it enlightens. Saxophonic clusters punctuate a deep recurring thrum. Brüninghaus introduces a plaintive ostinato behind Weber’s crisp solo over brushed drums. Every gesture therein lifts us into cloudier airspace. “Bali” gives us more drone, until Marshall and Weber lock us into a solid trek to outlying territories. Like a train through the mountains that suddenly part to reveal a lively village, it shows passengers an idyllic vision of life on the margins. The piano keeps us moving forward, however, so that we only get a glimpse. Weber provides the coal, while Mariano lights a fire to feed it. A beautiful arpeggiator opens the door on a transcendent detour before bringing us back on track. The energy and motivic clarity remind one instantly of Steve Reich’s Tehillim. Next, Colours weaves “A Dark Spell” over us. Over a distant cascade of piano, bass and sax congregate in thematic clusters. Mariano outdoes himself, performing back flips in the sky as our speed increases in the last stretch. Engaging harmonies between bass and sax offer an incredible display of dynamic control that recedes like a classical riff. The title track begins with a repeated motif on piano as random sounds—accordion, gongs, and breaking glass—populate the background. From this, we get a thematic highlighting by Mariano against Weber’s delightful counterpart. The smooth and easy ending sweeps up any remaining debris with every repetition. “‘No Trees?’ He Said” is a straightforward track that appears smooth from every angle. From its tight rhythm to its reed doublings, this is simply stunning music. There is nothing little about these movements.


Original cover

Though palpable in every amplified note, Weber’s legacy is about more than just assembling a handful of incredibly talented beads and threading them with smooth production. “Telepathic” is hardly the word to describe the sound of Colours, but it steers us in the right direction. The music in this set remains untouched, a sign of its far-reaching clarity of purpose. It is chaos theory epitomized in sound: every note goes where it must, never to be repeated. Weber’s music not only soars, it transcends the atmosphere. I like to think that, somewhere, an extra-terrestrial is glowing with delight at these sounds, pulsing through space-time with the energy of all creation.

Eberhard Weber: The Colours Of Chloë (ECM 1042)

Eberhard Weber
The Colours of Chloë

Eberhard Weber bass, cello, ocarina
Rainer Brüninghaus piano, synthesizer
Peter Giger drums, percussion
Ralf Hübner drums
Ack van Rooyen fluegelhorn
Cellos of the Südfunk Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart
Recorded December 1973 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineers: K. Rapp and M. Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Listening to an Eberhard Weber album, one can always count on an immersive experience. This is especially true in his first as frontman. From its enigmatic title and charming cover to its fine musicianship and well-conceived instrumentation, The Colours of Chloë remains an ECM classic and may just be the perfect introductory album for those looking to know why the label was so influential even in its infancy. In a span of 4 compositions and 10 times as many minutes Weber produces a veritable mélange of flavors, textures, and, of course, colors. On that note, “More Colours” gives us just that as Weber’s bass cuts a slow swath of orchestral goodness. The title track features an ethereal ocarina* that swirls into a resplendent piano solo from longtime Weber collaborator Rainer Brüninghaus. “An Evening With Vincent van Ritz” draws from the same palette as the first track, but soon breaks into a run with some inspired drumming and a stellar fluegelhorn solo by Ack van Rooyen, while “No Motion Picture” reprises the spacey feel of the title track and shows Weber at his most profound. Not to be forgotten, Brüninghaus also has some breathing room here and provides some of the more transcendent moments in this all-too-brief journey.

Although a glance at the cover art or lineup may not exactly cry “Jazz!” Weber knows where he and his instrument stand. The music is firmly rooted in the genre’s orthodox structural standby: i.e., a solid thematic framework with plenty of room for improvisation along the way. While compositionally astute, Weber’s greatest strength is his “eye” for sound. His feel for blending instruments is highly idiosyncratic and backed by an obvious passion for music-making. His distinctive combination of bass, piano, percussion, horns, and strings is such that no one instrument or group is ever dominant for too long. Each musician is only as good as his altruism toward the ensemble as a whole. That being said, one cannot help but marvel at Weber’s signature sound at the heart of it all, or at his uncanny playing that walks the line between affirmation and mourning. This album is not to be missed.

*Thanks to Rasmus Sylvester Bryder for this correction.

Eberhard Weber: The Following Morning (ECM 1084)

 

Eberhard Weber
The Following Morning

Eberhard Weber bass
Rainer Brüninghaus piano
Members of Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra celli, French horns, oboe
Recorded August 1976 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The title of Eberhard Weber’s classic 1977 album is as evocative as they come. At once cryptic and expository, the image calls up a host of associations, plays of light and shadow.

“T. On A White Horse” establishes the album’s solemn mood as Weber’s distinctive electrobass springs to life against an aquatic electric piano. A small orchestral section weaves its way in, painting chromatic oboe lines onto a droning canvas of cellos. As the strings intensify, bass and woodwinds share a plaintive synchronicity. The bass holds its breath, cupping its hands around Brüninghaus’s delicate flame. Oboes carry their lilting harmony across the oceans, fading into the bell-like call of sunrise.

“Moana I” feels less like a journey with a goal and more like a testing ground for confluence. The orchestra sprouts like a forest through which Weber must limp on his way toward dawn. The piano’s melodic charge, however, helps to cut this tension. Once the French horns offer their own desultory commentary, morning light pours in. The electric piano buffs the music to a crystalline sheen while horns and winds work their way back into rest. They find their beds and sleep, having reached the summit of their dreams.

The title track begins with indistinct ambient noises: people rustling in a resonant space, musicians shifting in their seats. This impressionistic cloud splits with a piano chord in reverse, loosing an electronic squall. Strings talk among themselves in the background as bowed harmonics trickle like rain down a window. The piano speaks of midnight to the bass, which emerges with a chorused effect. Weber’s keening tone touches the landscape, scratching glyphs into its fertile surface. The scene shifts and grinds, a hurdy-gurdy whispering in slow motion. The appearance of an acoustic bass in this track creates a dazzling effect, as if rising from some bygone era where the immediacy of live performance was a given and not a luxury, and where the communal experience of music thrived in the ears of every listener. The world unravels like a lullaby, revealing just enough of its heart to give us vast internal comfort. With this rupture mended the electrobass returns, laying out its motif over the pieces left behind. The acoustic bass chants the same note as a French horn plays us out.

“Moana II” puts us into an echoing flock of horns that seems to scorn the earth below. This segues into a brief passage of quiet abstractions before blossoming into a conversation between piano and bass, at which point the horns have flown away. Although the acoustic arrangements are wonderful, in this instance the heavily contrived bass feels just slightly out of place and, I think, clashes with the more organic backdrop. Thankfully, Weber reacclimatizes as he goes along, meshing beautifully with the synth effects at the album’s end.

Weber’s sound is instantly recognizable in its solitary function, marking its mission in stillness. With a liquid technique Weber wrings out as much melodic juice from his instrument as he possibly can. Not to be outdone, the epic piano stylings of Brüninghaus are the perfect foil for Weber’s decidedly intimate approach. Every time his fingers touch the keys, we begin to see where this music can really take us. Weber’s compositions constitute a vast sonic kaleidoscope in which one finds a range of moods all strung by the same nostalgic threads. Every detail is a new feather, stitched into the wings on either side of the space-bound fuselage that is his ever-expanding oeuvre. To listen to his music is to feel the state of things change from light to dark and back to light again.