Researching this set of celebratory jazz re-issues has twice led to ecstatic rambles through Weber’s live works on YouTube. This one is special.
Time: 4 tracks / 41 minutes
Regular readers will have noticed my love of music from the prestigious, award-winning ECM label – which is essentially one man’s high quality, long-term project.
For 50 years, German bassist Manfred Eicher has been recording over one thousand jazz and classical albums with a pristine sound quality. He has struck up an excellent trusting relationship with Arvo Pärt, arguably the world’s leading living classical composer, and cross-fertilised many of the world’s best jazz musicians, such as Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Chick Corea and Pat Metheny.
To celebrate this half-century, ECM are re-issuing (in simpler packaging than usual) 50 classic albums under the Touchstones moniker, the first half now and the second batch soon to be announced. Deciding which to review has involved pleasurable hours of research, but the album that most grabbed me (twice) and led to ecstatic rambles through his live works on YouTube was Eberhard Weber’s The Following Morning.
Weber plays a resonant fretless, upright electric bass and does so in a distinctive style with real lyrical flair. These four tracks average only ten minutes each, which means that they have time to naturally go where they need to.
Rich as it is in tone, there are no drums here, which helps to create a fluid, atmospheric beauty in this music. The sound is hard to capture in words, as it is unlike anything else I know. A warmer, more relaxed, instrumental version of Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden might come close. While Weber is generally much more fluent and accessible than the Talk Talk work, he does have the fragmented album closer “Moana II,” where (aided by an occasional unaccredited synth) he tantalisingly teases an earlier theme (from surprise, surprise, “Moana I”) which he then spells out right at the end.
Weber’s main colleague here is pianist Rainer Brüninghaus, with whom he played in saxophonist Jan Garbarek’s band, but while the bass and piano do trade licks, this rarely feels like a standard jazz album with piano taking the traditional jazz role. Weber treats his bass like a lead guitar, double- (or triple-) tracking where necessary to play more normal bass lines against it. He leaves a lot of space around it, which the piano isn’t obliged to fill.
Instead, many of the spaces are occupied quietly by the soft celli, French horns and oboe of the Philharmonic Orchestra, Oslo. So at times – such as in the title track – it can feel like a version of Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain, but with bass taking the place of trumpet.
The blend is gorgeous – as is that title track, with a melody line that will stay with you long after the piece is finished.
Touchstones is a music lover’s playground and likely to provide new excitement for anyone interested in jazz. A runner up for review album from this series was John Abercrombie's delicious Night, featuring an all-star cast with Jan Hammer, Jack DeJohnette and Mike Brecker. On Hammer’s "Ethereggae" they manage to combine jazz, rock and reggae in one gloriously original – and successful – eight minute piece.
One of these Juni by Peter Erskine Trio is touched on in this review.
I highly recommend playing with the list of 25 yourself and discovering what excites you.