Stages of a Long Journey – Eberhard Weber
Ask ECM fans which one musician best characterizes the label, and most would probably pick Keith Jarrett an understandable choice. However, Eberhard Weber has been a quieter but persistent force for almost as long, and is a good representative of the “other” ECM. He doesn’t share Jarrett’s aversion to electric keyboards and is more inclined to use the studio, and although the wintry landscapes and Bill Evans roots of his music are ECM trademarks, the ambient interludes reach out of jazz into the realm of Tangerine Dream or Meddle-era Pink Floyd.
Stages Of A Long Journey documents a 2005 live Weber retrospective. Like all but the most inept retrospectives, it has many pleasures, but, like all but the best, it doesn’t drive away the memory of his original albums. The presence of the SWR Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart leads to some arrangements quite different from the original versions, but also stiffens the rhythms on the livelier pieces, such as “Silent Feet.” As well, Jan Garbarek has collaborated with Weber long enough to fit in despite his absence from the original recordings of most of these pieces, but, at least for this listener, a little of his sweet soprano goes a long way.
On the plus side, this disc provides another chance to hear the masterful vibraphonist Gary Burton and keyboardist Rainer Braus at work. It has a strong segment tracing Weber’s roots, featuring Carla Bley’s “Syndrome” and an Evans/LaFaro-flavored reworking of the standard “Yesterdays.” (With this nod to the past, a balancing hint of the future may have made sense, but “Hang Around,” with its beatbox solo from Nino G, seems to have wandered in from another CD.) And it’s another chance to hear classic Weber themes such as “Yellow Fields” and “Colours Of Chloe,” as well as his melodic, inquisitive bass.
Stages Of A Long Journey is not a substitute for the journey itself, but it summarizes the journey capably. And, with some recent reports of Weber’s health failing, one hopes it will not be the last stage.