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Stages of a Long Journey

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Album Review

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 Cloë" 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.


Born: 22 January 1940 in Stuttgart, Germany

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Though not strictly a jazz bassist and certainly one of the least flamboyant improvisers, Eberhard Weber is among Europe's finest bassists. His style doesn't embrace either a bluesy orientation or an animated, energetic approach. Weber's influences are primarily European, notably contemporary classical and new music. His technique of using contrasting ostinato patterns in different voices was taken from composer Steve Reich. He's also made innovations in bass design. Weber added an extra string to...
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