German bassist Eberhard Weber, closely identified with the ECM sound, has long been appreciated for his unique voice as an instrumentalist, playing a custom-designed five-string electric-acoustic upright, and as a composer, employing various strains of chamber jazz, new music, contemporary classical and avant-minded material. Weber’s legacy, including a measurable impact on European jazz, was celebrated in grand style early last year with a pair of concerts in his hometown of Stuttgart. There, the master musician, unable to perform since suffering a stroke in 2007, celebrated his 75th birthday with a stage full of guests, including several former collaborators.
The centerpiece of the program is Pat Metheny’s “Hommage,” an ambitious 31-minute composition based on video recordings of two of Weber’s extended improvisations from the ’80s, and performed by Metheny with the SWR Big Band. We see and hear a younger Weber on the big screen, his line then doubled by guest bassist Scott Colley, and the guitarist enters with a melody built on the honoree’s original improv. The long piece is marked by mixed emotional colors, call-and-response sections between Weber’s bass and blasts from the brass section, a synth-guitar exploration and an open solo by drummer Danny Gottlieb, returned to the Metheny fold after more than 30 years.
Weber joins in just once in the flesh, augmenting Gary Burton’s four-mallet work on vibes using only his right hand, on a swinging stroll through Benny Golson’s “Killer Joe”; Weber sounds the melody and offers a quick solo. Jan Garbarek’s searching saxophone rides herd over Weber’s dense, surging bass figures on opener “Resume,” while Burton is showcased on the floaty “Touch.” Paul McCandless’ reedy, piercing English horn threads between the chiming lines of “Tubingen,” and he turns to soprano for “Maurizius” and then back to English horn for the brighter, brasher “Street Scenes,” all three of which also benefit from Burton’s somewhat subdued soloing.
The audio of the DVD, released a year after an ECM CD documenting the same concerts, is impressive, with the multiple instruments captured with great clarity, and Weber’s original videotapes coming through with great detail and sonority. Visually it’s a treat, too, as the camera moves from big-screen images of Weber to close-ups of the featured players, journeying around and through the big band, sometimes pausing to light on a chart or to offer a quick shot of the enthralled crowd at the spacious, beautiful Theaterhaus Stuttgart.