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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/ Brüninghaus/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, Brüninghaus 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.

***

Eberhard Weber is on the road for almost all of 2007 with the Jan Garbarek Group, with concerts in Italy, France, Sweden, Norway, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Slovenia, Belgium, Ireland, England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Romania and Turkey. Details at www.ecmrecords.com/tours

CD booklet includes liner notes by Michael Tucker and concert photos from the Stuttgart birthday performances.

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