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Eberhard Weber: Stages of a Long Journey

German bassist Eberhard Weber’s entire 35-year solo catalog is on ECM, so it’s natural to associate his name with the company known for its atmospheric, spacious acoustic music. But Manfred Eicher’s label also stresses innovation. Weber, 67, actually plays an electric upright bass, which he customized during the 1970s by adding extra strings. He uses the instrument on 11 of the 12 tracks on his latest CD, the live Stages of a Long Journey.

Weber’s first live CD, and first overall since Endless Days from 2000, was recorded in his hometown of Stuttgart to celebrate his 65th birthday. Old friends like vibraphonist Gary Burton and saxophonist Jan Garbarek blend with tracks featuring the SWR Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart (conducted by Roland Kluttig) and even Swiss “human beatbox” Nino G, making the program anything but predictable.

The symphonic opener, Weber’s “Silent Feet,” effectively blends the orchestra with Garbarek’s quartet (with Weber, pianist Rainer Bruninghaus and drummer/percussionist Marilyn Mazur) and Burton. The bassist has been a member of the Garbarek’s group for more than 25 years. Carla Bley’s “Syndrome” features that quintet sans orchestra, plus swinging interplay between Burton and Mazur, a former member of Miles Davis’ band.

Weber duets on acoustic upright with guest pianist Wolfgang Dauner, then on electric with Garbarek, before the half-hour “Birthday Suite” spotlights Bruninghaus, Mazur and the orchestra. The SWR also provides vibrant colors to the 11-minute title track, but the disc’s biggest surprises come before and after it. “Hang Around” features not only Nino G’s hard-to-believe vocal percussion, but also Swiss percussionist Reto Weber (no relation) playing with Eberhard Weber in a most unorthodox trio format. The bassist ends the concert with his unaccompanied composition “Air,” proving that his innovation extends beyond his customized instrument.

Originally Published