SWR - Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Concert Recording, March 2005 at Theaterhaus, Stuttgart
Stages of a Long Journey was recorded in Stuttgart in March of 2005, as part of a celebration of both the 20th anniversary of the Theaterhaus Jazzstage festival and as a 65th birthday celebration for bassist Eberhard Weber. Weber was asked to pick a number of his own compositions, rearrange them by writing new charts for the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, and select his own band as well. Weber picked on former and current bandmates such as Gary Burton, Jan Garbarek, Rainer Bruninghaus, Marilyn Mazur, Wolfgang Dauner, Reto Weber, and human beatbox Nino G., and carefully chose material from his own catalog and pieces he had performed on in their initial recordings, such as Bruninghaus's "Piano Transition," Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays," Mazur's "Percussion Transition," and Carla Bley's "Syndrome." Those wondering if there is any actual "jazz" on this record need look no further than the gorgeous version of Bley's tune here, where Burton, Garbarek, and the bassist all shine. Another consideration for the listener is in Weber's beautiful, inventive, rhythmic charts for the orchestra (under the direction of Roland Kluttig). "Silent Feet," which opens the set, is one such exercise. What begins as a slow bowed bassline is colored and enlarged by the orchestra entering gradually, tensely, and dramatically, as grey dawn emerges from the night sky. A pulse begins just after Mazur's percussion entry, the band plays these intricate rhythmic phrases, and the orchestra adds genuine color, texture, and depth. They follow rhythmic signature perfectly, allowing the tune to evolve and bring its delightfully understated melodic frame (which is not inseparable from the pulse) to the fore. By the time Garbarek takes his solo and Weber plays double time behind him, the big brassy horns are ready to push and drop out only as Burton enters with a truly lovely and poetic solo.
There are a fine pair of duets played here as well, between Dauner on piano and Weber's bass on the lovely Kern number, and also "Seven Movements," shared by the bassist and Garbarek. They set the stage for what follows, the elongated "Birthday Suite" that encompasses five pieces - bookended by gorgeous readings of two of Weber's best-known pieces, "The Colours of Cloe" and "Yellow Fields." On "Hang Around," a trio of Nino G., Weber's downright funky acoustic bass, and the self-designed percussion instrument played by Reto Weber (no relation) called the "hang," are in deep intuitive interplay. The work by G. is not a novelty, but something inventive, utterly fresh, and full of the energy - especially in G.'s solo. The final two pieces of the evening are in many ways the most satisfying. The full band returns on "The Last Stage of a Long Journey," where the orchestra introduces the brooding and melancholy composition. Strings and the deep brass of tuba and euphonium gradually bring up the tempo and introduce the lithe melody, as Weber brings his bass up from the ether. When Bruninghaus restates the theme on the piano and Weber is allowed free play inside the rhythm, Burton begins to color it. When Garbarek's icy soprano saxophone cries out, it is arresting and rings true. The concert ends with a brief bass solo by Weber on "Air." In just over three minutes, the great bassist is not remotely interested in showing his chops but in playing this bittersweet little song as a folk tune. This is a watershed moment in Weber's recorded output, because it reveals his collective gifts as a musician, which, even when understated, are shining examples of the European jazz, folk, classical, and new music he has forged these last 40 years as a leader and as a valued sideman and composer.
All Music Guide
In March 2005, the city of Stuttgart celebrated the 65th birthday of native son Eberhard Weber with concerts at the Theaterhaus. A symphony orchestra and exceptional soloists convened to play new arrangements of some of Weber's best known pieces in two sold-out concerts from which this album, Eberhard's first live disc for ECM (and his first new 'leader' recording since 2000's "Endless Days, ECM 1748), is drawn.
The album's title "Stages Of A Long Journey" is also its programme, as the bassist-composer assembles around him players of importance in his career. The result is a work of strongly autobiographical flavour. If part of its appeal is nostalgic, the sentiment is not out of place at a birthday party, yet the most striking characteristic of the album is its vibrancy. These musicians, playing pieces which once belonged to the repertoire of Eberhard Weber's 1970s Colours band, make them live in the moment. The core ensemble heard here is effectively the Jan Garbarek Group: Eberhard put his bandleader activities on hold in 1981 to join Garbarek, and has been with him ever since. But with Gary Burton added to the Garbarek/Weber/ Bruninghaus/Mazur nucleus, a setlist revolving around Weber tunes, and a fired-up Stuttgart audience in support, new discoveries can indeed be made.
Eberhard Weber and Gary Burton came together for Burton's "Ring" album in 1974 and subsequent touring, with further recordings including Burton's "Passengers" and Weber's "Fluid Rustle". On the road they sometimes played Carla Bley's "Syndrome" (which Gary had recorded for ECM on "Dreams So Real"). The version here finds the driving momentum of Weber and Mazur lifting the soloists into the air. It is a delight to hear Burton and Garbarek together, both delivering free flowing, deeply swinging solos. Burton's appearance on "Stages of a Long Journey" is his first new recording for ECM since 1986.
Eberhard Weber plays his customized upright electric bass throughout this album, on all tracks except Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays" which features a very rare instance of Weber on the acoustic double-bass. The piece is played as a duet with fellow Stuttgarter Wolfgang Dauner (whose sole ECM recording, also with Weber, was previously the 1970 disc "Output"). The bassist's association with Dauner pre-dates the beginnings of ECM: they were playing together already by 1964.
The SWR Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart has some history with ECM, recently recording Valentin Silvestrov's 6th Symphony, for instance, but this disc marks their label debut in a "jazz" context. Under the direction of Roland Kluttig, they give very convincing performances of Weber's arrangements of his pieces. As Michael Tucker observes in the liner notes, "Weber determined to avoid any overly expansive use of the resources which had been put at his disposal. Shunning any potential lushness of effect, Weber concentrated instead on encouraging the members of the Stuttgart RSO to engage with the sort of rhythmical phrasing they might but rarely encounter, if at all, in their regular repertoire. At the same time, Weber was fully aware of the breadth of chromatic potential available to him. Listeners familiar with his earlier ECM recordings of the pieces featured at Stuttgart will note many a transitional and developmental passage of fresh and discerningly employed colour, texture and dynamics."
On the opening "Silent Feet", on the "Birthday Suite" which brings "The Colours of Chloe" , "Maurizius" and "Yellow Fields" together, and on "The Last Stage Of A Long Journey" the orchestra is an energetic protagonist, alongside Burton, Garbarek, Weber, Bruninghaus and Mazur.
But there is power also in the reduced forces of "Seven Movements", beautifully played as a duo by Garbarek, on soprano sax, and Weber. As Tucker notes, "the affinity that Weber and Garbarek enjoy is nowhere more evident than in 'Seven Movements'. A Weber composition which they used to play in occasional duo concerts in the late 1980s, the piece opened the bassist's 1988 'Orchestra' release. In a space-conjuring reversal of the logic that governs much of the rest of these Stuttgart concerts, the music is stripped of its original, quietly but purposefully building brass interjections and climactic percussion, to leave Garbarek free to respond to Weber's rhythmically potent but also tenderly cast range of motifs."
Making their ECM debuts on the track "Hang Around" are two Swiss artists, percussionist Reto Weber and 'human beatbox' Nino G on vocalized beats . They join Eberhard Weber to explore a lilting, lighthearted ambient hiphop hybrid, to the crowd's considerable pleasure.
The album ends with Weber alone on electrobass, elegantly melodic as ever. "I never really think of Eberhard Weber as a bass player", Jan Garbarek has said, "certainly not in any conventional sense of the term. It's more that he is a truly amazing musician, who just happens to play the bass, which he does in all kinds of wonderful, fresh and inspiring ways."
On these "Stages Of A Long Journey" there are many fresh and inspiring moments - variously triggered by Weber's playing and writing and by the engaged cooperation of some of old friends. All in all, a joyous celebration.
========= from the cover ==========
Stages of a Long Journey
The advance publicity for the twentieth anniversary of Stuttgart's Theaterhaus Jazztage festival in 2005 promised something out of the ordinary, and so it proved to be: two evenings at a packed Theaterhaus, on the 23rd and 24th of March, dedicated to "ein Jubilaum im Jubilaum" to mark the 65th birthday of Stuttgart son Eberhard Weber.
An event of this magnitude, where the bassist and composer was joined by several of his chief playing partners of the past decades, together with some eighty to ninety classical musicians, did not simply fall out of the late-winter sky. For several years, Weber had played concerts in Gschwend as part of the festivals organised there by Martin Muhleis, a friend of the bassist and director of sagas pro-ductions. With Weber's forthcoming birthday in mind, Muhleis volunteered that he had good contact with members of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra and could imagine that the orchestra might be interested to contribute to a special project featuring Weber. In fact, the mainly youthful members of this increasingly well-regarded orchestra (conducted at the Jazztage event by Roland Kluttig) were keen to bring their interpretive skills to music which lay some distance from the mainstream of contemporary classical or 'serious' composition. In the event, the Stuttgart RSO played their full and much appreciated part in ensuring the success of these two celebratory evenings, and have expressed interest in working on more such genre-dissolving projects in the future.
Preparing for the event, Weber had to decide on several matters. What should the programme be? How much time would he need to write the arrangements (as he did) for a combination of jazz instrumentalists and anything up to eighty or ninety classical musicians? And what should be the nature of those arrangements? Weber's unarguable claim to lasting distinction as an innovatory musician rests in large part upon the courage he has had to eschew the technical showboating which can sometimes mar the jazz aesthetic, and concentrate on the poetic. There is a direct parallel in the way in which, no stranger to the world of classical music, Weber determined to avoid any overly expansive use of the resources which had been put at his disposal. Shunning any potential lushness of effect, Weber concentrated instead on encouraging the members of the Stuttgart RSO to engage with the sort of rhythmical phrasing they might but rarely encounter, if at all, in their regular repertoire. At the same time, Weber was fully aware of the breadth of chromatic potential available to him. Listeners familiar with his earlier ECM recordings of the pieces featured at Stuttgart will note many a transitional and developmental passage of fresh and discerningly employed colour, texture and dynamics.
A particularly taxing question for Weber was, which of his many distinguished playing companions of the past four decades or so should he invite to join him? After much reflection, and consideration of inevitable financial constraints, Weber decided to invite (in alphabetical order here) Rainer Bruninghaus, Gary Burton, Wolfgang Dauner, Jan Garbarek and Marilyn Mazur, together with two bonus guests, Swiss percussionist Reto Weber (no relation) and beat-box vocalist Nino G.
Rainer Bruninghaus (born 1949) was the pianist on Weber's 1973 ECM session "The Colours of Chloe". A breakthrough recording of spacious portamento figures, gliding, deeply textured drones and arresting melodies, it saw the bassist create a singularly different world from that of the many modern mainstream MPS-label sessions (with e.g. Joe Pass, Hampton Hawes, Lucky Thompson and Baden Powell) to which he had contributed in the late 1960s and early 70s. For most of the 1960s, Weber had complemented his burgeoning jazz career with extensive work (initially as production assistant but eventually as director) in both documentary film for television and photography: small wonder, then, that a compelling range of practically picturable atmosphere contributed much to the distinctive nature of the material on "Chloe".
The award-winning album found Weber already drawn to what have long proved to be his favoured lower, or mellow, registers. It was the first recording to profile the special sound and dynamics, at once warmly human and otherworldly, of what Weber calls his electrobass: the customised instrument with an additional treble C string, uniting a solid body with an acoustic-like neck, and which has a practically sculptural quality to its design. A new technology, developed in larg;e part by the bassist himself, had helped him shape a new poetics. Years later, Weber would embrace with equal enthusiasm (and complementary discrimination) the possibilities offered by digital delay and loops, possibilities manifest to the fullest extent on his 1993 "Pendulum" release.
Following "The Colours of Chloe"the classically trained Bruninghaus has played on the large majority of Weber's ECM sessions, besides releasing two ECM recordings of his own, the 1980"Freigeweht"and 1983 "Continuum". A key member of Weber's Colours quartet throughout its existence from 1975 to 1981, in 1988 Bruninghaus was introduced by Weber to the Jan Garbarek Group. Today, he continues to hold the piano and keyboards chair in that consistently popular quartet.
In the context of these 2005 Stuttgart concerts, two of Bruning-haus's collaborations with Weber stand out in particular: the patiently unfolding, reverie-rich "The Following Morning "from 1976, where at times the bassist and pianist were joined by members of the Philharmonic Orchestra, Oslo; and "Endless Days", the April 2000 quartet recording with Paul McCandless and Michael DiPasqua which, to date, is Weber's most organic transmutation of all such categories as 'jazz' or 'classical', 'improvised' or 'composed'. In this instance, one should also speak of notions of happiness or sadness. For the measured lyricism of this finely wrought album suggests how much Weber might empathise with the painter Pierre Bonnard's view thaf'he who sings is not always happy".
Vibraphonist Gary Burton (born 1943) participated in one of the first ECM recordings to feature classical instrumentation, the 1973 "Seven Songs For Quartet And Chamber Orchestra" devoted to the compositions of Mike Gibbs. In the sleevenotes to his recent ECM :rarum Selected Recordings release, Burton revealed how, shortly after the Gibbs recording, Manfred Eicher had suggested - in what Burton calls "an inspired choice"- that the vibraphonist invite Eberhard Weber to participate in the recording of what would become Burton's 1974 release "Ring", with drummer and percussionist Bob Moses present alongside the unusual two-guitar and two-bass line-up of Mick Goodrick and Pat Metheny, Steve Swallow and Weber.
In retrospect, Weber considers this session to be one of the most fructifying of all the early recordings which he either contributed to or led on ECM. After several American tours as guest soloist with the Burton group and further recording together on Burton's 1976 "Passengers" session, Weber invited Burton to appear on his own 1979 "Fluid Rustle"album, where Burton played both vibraphone and marimba. Since then, Burton has continued to set his free-flowing four-mallet mastery- hear him, here, both float and burn his seemingly effortless and elegant way through the opening choruses of "Syndrome", Carla Bley's sparkling take on the blues - in service of the sort of synthesizing sensibility which first distinguished his innovative blending of aspects of jazz and country, rock and folk music at the turn of the 1960s and 70s. It is a sensibility evident throughout these Stuttgart concerts, and which has found further striking expression in recent years through the vibraphonist's engagement with the world of tango music, in particular the music of Astor Piazzolla (which Burton first grew to love in the mid-1960s).
It was in the mid-1960s that pianist Wolfgang Dauner (born 1935, and, like Weber, in Stuttgart) first began to make waves in the trio which he had at the time with Weber and African-American drummer Fred Braceful. Their 1964 recording "Dream Talk" remains a key document of the contemporary search for an increasingly self-directed European jazz, even as it also reveals the continuing impact of the legendary Bill Evans/Scott LaFaro/Paul Motian Trio of 1960/61. Weber credits long-term musical companion Dauner as the man who introduced him to 'the scene' in the 1960s, and who had the courage to branch out and take the music far from (and beyond) bebop. Time-wise, this could lead in many directions. "Yesterdays", the reflective but rhythmically adventurous duo with Dauner here, and featuring Weber on his 'steam model' bass of old, is in part a reprise of the "Dream Talk"album's recasting of the Jerome Kern classic long associated with Billie Holiday's 1939 recording for the Commodore label. This 2005 version documents Dauner's first appearance on ECM since the 1970 "Output", a vibrant recording which found the Dauner/Weber/ Braceful Trio leavening the outer limits of an often corrosively savage energy with the sort of distilled yet expansive lyricism that has subsequently come to distinguish much of the work of both Weber and Dauner.
One of the many pleasures these 2005 Stuttgart recordings afford is the opportunity to hear Weber's other long-term companion in music, the Norwegian saxophonist and composer Jan Garbarek, lend his distinctive sound and phrasing to such enduring Weber pieces as "The Colours Of Chloe"and "The Last Stage Of A Long Journey". Born in 1947, Garbarek first heard Weber in concert with Dauner and Braceful in the early 1970s, and first recorded with him on Ralph Towner's December 1974"Solstice"quartet session, with Jon Christensen on drums. Following further recording together in Solstice, three long-legendary concerts with that quartet at the 1978 Molde Jazz Festival, and his contributions later that year to the saxophonist's "Photo With..."album, Weber was invited to join the Jan Garbarek Group, shortly after breaking up his own Colours quartet in 1981. A quarter of a century later, the shape-shifting symbiosis developed by these two wide-ranging poets, even shamans, of their respective instruments remains as remarkable as ever. As Garbarek has said:"I never really think of Eberhard as a bass player, certainly not in any conventional sense of the term. It's more that he is a truly amazing musician, who just happens to play the bass, which he does in all kinds of wonderful, fresh and inspiring ways."
Here, the affinity that Weber and Garbarek enjoy is nowhere more evident than in "Seven Movements". A Weber composition which they used to play in occasional duo concerts in the late 1980s, the piece opened the bassist's 1988 "Orchestra" release. In a space-conjuring reversal of the logic that governs much of the rest of these Stuttgart concerts, the music is stripped of its original, quietly but purposefully building brass interjections and climactic percussion, to leave Garbarek free to respond to Weber's rhythmically potent but also tenderly cast range of motifs.
During his time in the Jan Garbarek Group, Weber has shared the stage with some of the world's finest drummers and percussionists: Jon Christensen and Michael DiPasqua, Nana Vasconcelos and Marilyn Mazur, and, most recently, Manu Katche and Trilok Gurtu. Born in New York in 1955, but domiciled in Denmark from an early age, Marilyn Mazur played in the Garbarek Group throughout the 1990s and for half the present decade. With a background, in part, in all-women music-theatre and dance, she is also a painter, which may go some way to explaining how she is able to make drums and percussion sing in ways as visually enchanting as they are sonically compelling. A musician of strongly mythopoetic inclinations, whose career has included work with Miles Davis, Gil Evans and Wayne Shorter, in 1997 Mazur and her own Future Song group released "Small Labyrinths"on ECM. In 2001, she was awarded the prestigious Danish Jazzpar Prize.
The quality of Mazur's work is such that Weber assigned to her all the percussion parts of the group and orchestral pieces on which he played at Stuttgart: with one exception. This was the evening's surprise number, a trio workout with Reto Weber on hang (an invention of the Swiss percussionist, with overtones of both Asian and Caribbean percussion) and his compatriot Nino G. on nothing but his own vocal chords - and several bucketfuls of crowd-stirring energy. On one level, the piece brings back memories of the chop-handed funk dealt out by Weber on the solo "Ready Out There?"from the"Orchestra"album. From another perspective, it serves to underline the breadth and depth of both the musicianship and the humanity of the man who the Stuttgart Jazztage had rightly chosen to honour in such a splendid manner.
In 1967, together with George Gruntz, Sahib Shihab, Jean-Luc Ponty and Daniel Humair, Weber recorded with a quartet of traditional Bedouin musicians. Forty years later, having recorded with figures as diverse as trumpeter Benny Bailey and pop vocalist Kate Bush, he is just as likely to tour and record with musicians from Brazil, Pakistan or Vietnam as he is to accept an invitation to work with Reto Weber and trumpeter Enrico Rava: the latter having taken the place of Albert Mangelsdorff in the occasional trio these musicians continue to have together, with the two Webers now sharing the melancholy honour of having accompanied the great trombonist at the last concert he played, in Lorrach on December 17th 2004.
The foundations of the journey that has been Weber's life in music were laid early. When Weber was six he was introduced to the cello by his father, a classically trained player of the instrument with a penchant for the French Impressionist composers, and who would often arrange string concerts at home. A fondness for the world of classical music has never left Weber. Ravel and Faure, Ligeti and (early) Reich are just some of the many composers who have continued to fructify his imagination. At the same time, Weber has long been sensitive to, and deeply versed in, the motor rhythms of jazz. A decade or so after he had been introduced to the cello by his father, Weber began to teach himself the double-bass. The impact of Paul Chambers and Ray Brown confirmed the teenager's taste for modern jazz; a little later, the innovations of Scott LaFaro struck Weber with particular force.
With the exception of "Syndrome" and "Yesterdays", the music of these Stuttgart evenings is neither 'jazz' nor 'classical', certainly not in any conventional sense of those terms. It might best be described as simply, but profoundly, the music of Eberhard Weber. One of the many people who relished the concerts (which drew enthusiasts from as far afield as Britain and America) was the English painter David Chapman. Long resident in France, and friend of the bassist, Chapman is the creator of a series of large abstract collages in ink, wash and wax which were inspired by the music of the "Pendulum" release and which are now in the personal collection of Eberhard and Maja Weber. In the light of that spirit of cross-genre accord which characterised these Stuttgart evenings, Chapman's recollection is definitive: "My wife and I were present at the great Stuttgart event. What a variety and eloquence of expression there was to be enjoyed; what a generosity of spirit and conception, whether from the point of view of rhythm, melody or harmony, orchestral texture or the dynamics of a solo. As a painter, I could not help but be inspired by the performances; as a listener, pure and simple, I was - like my wife, and, I would imagine, practically everyone else present - completely taken by the music."
One might ask: taken where? Somewhere between sound and sight; somewhere where matters of technique are of consequence only insofar as they serve the larger imperatives of a poetics that might conjure the mystery and magic - the majesty, even - of music that encourages us to journey far into (and beyond) ourselves. Inviting our creative participation in their open-ended evolution, the various stages of the long and courageous journey that Weber has undertaken over the years can serve to bring us (as they do with such diverse beauty in each of the two concluding encore pieces here) ever closer to that edge in the wound of time where, however momentarily, we may be graced by a capacity to intuit the ancient, archetypal import of melody and image alike: threnody and threshold.
- Michael Tucker