[21 May 2001]
You have to wait a full two minutes, 12 seconds into the first track for that marvelous distinctive lush bass sound, but in theory, when you’ve waited eight years, what’s a few minutes more? If you don’t know the uniquely identifiable fluid sound of Eberhard Weber’s electric bass, you should. Other than the late Jaco Pastorius, no bass player has created such an immediately recognizable sound. Endless Days is Weber’s first album as leader in eight years, and it’s a departure from the past in that it aims for a classical chamber ensemble feel in its interpretations of Weber’s original compositions.
Weber is a mature composer now, fully in control and able to dictate well what it is he seeks. While 1993’s Pendulum allowed him to showcase his skills as solo artist on the signature five-string upright electric bass of his own design, this is something else entirely. As such, those expecting much in the way of improvisational solos might be disappointed. Instead what you find here are interesting, thought-provoking compositions (all except one of them new) performed well by this experienced quartet of time-proven musicians.
Weber handpicked his ensemble here, working with some of his favorites from years past. For piano duties he selected Rainer Bruninghaus, who was present on The Colors of Chloe, Weber’s strong debut effort in 1973. Bruninghaus has played with Weber on his three albums as part of the group Colours and also teamed with Weber as a member of the Jan Garbarek Group. Weber selected Bruninghaus because of his all-around musicianship, his ability to excel at classical music as well as jazz and his great sense of ensemble playing.
For percussion, Weber wanted Michael DiPasqua, another former member of the Jan Garbarek Group, someone who had a sense of percussion in the classic sense. Weber wanted open musical concepts, anything but typical jazz percussion. However, since 1986, DiPasqua had retired completely from the music scene. So it took a lot of convincing for Weber to coax DiPasqua out of retirement after 14 years, but he did.
Rounding out the quartet, Weber turned to the multi-reed talents of Paul McCandless with whom he had worked on his last ensemble recording, 1982’s Later That Evening. Again, Weber’s interest in pursuing a direction of classical instrumentation pointed his way to the renowned Oregon and Ralph Towner collaborator. True to this desire, McCandless plays soprano sax only once on this CD, devoting the rest of his time to more “classical” turns at oboe, English horn and bass clarinet.
The music itself still sounds like some sort of important jazz soundtrack, though admittedly there’s less American freewheeling improvisation and more of a European sense of restraint and scripted ensemble performance. The older Weber creates intriguing songs here, spare yet contemporary and full of interesting internal movements. Not one track is predictable, but again, the subtlety of the whole might be lost on less discerning listeners.
“French Diary” is an open expanse of pronounced percussion and oboe, letting Michael DiPasqua show what has made his career a worthy one, never giving in to easy musical resolutions, instead giving way to airy wistful strains of piano that give the piece light. One of the major pieces here is “Solo for Bass”, wherein Weber flexes his talents on fretless bass in a scripted environment, mesmerizing the listener with his irresistible cello-like overtones and exuberance, bringing such expression to the instrument you’d swear it was a living thing.
“Nuit Blanche” is a sort of atmospheric parlor piece, gentle musical steps inching forward on piano and bass into a middle sequence of soprano saxophone solo, then the steps recede, leaving us where we started. “A Walk in the Garrigue” is the track that best shows the fluid mastery that is Eberhard Weber’s unique style, both in technique and rich bass tones. Here is an extended solo as song, pensive at times, playful at others, compelling throughout.
“Concerto for Piano” is a song that takes a little time to work its way into your subconscious, but conversely, remains with you for a long while once it does. It hearkens back to some of the great ensemble work of Weber’s past, perhaps with Colours, the Jan Garbarek Group, or collaborative work with Gary Burton or Ralph Towner, and probably stands out as my current favorite track. The other concerto, the opening “Concerto for Bass”, seems more of an ensemble piece as well, as much about the oboe or percussion in its opening minutes, and even after the bass arrives it seems merely to ride alongside the accompaniment, not stepping apart from it. In the end, it is about all the instruments, piano included.
The title track “Endless Days” ventures a little more into the classical realm, with shadows of Sondheim infusing the composition in spots. McCandless gets to shine here, playing his lead parts superbly over the subtle background of Bruninghaus’ synthesized orchestra. To close the CD, Weber reworks “The Last Stage of a Long Journey” from his 1981 recording Little Movements, again opting for a more orchestral and classical sound. The tone is serious at the outset, drums as thunder, then breaks open a bit with the oboe lead, though the feel remains tentative, contemplative. Bruninghaus’ piano takes it back from classical to jazz, with a light touch that invites in that characteristic Weber bass, which in turn leads to the saxophone, which in turn brings it back to the start again, and to a change of mood. All told, a truly wonderful ensemble piece that seems much larger than the four component musicians behind it.
Little of this music is either easy or upbeat, and so it demands your time and concentration. This is a CD to relish, something to complement your mind as you sit and sip your espresso. While not the best-recorded showcase of Weber’s instrumental abilities, per se, it doesn’t set out to be. Instead, it is more of a display of his considerable musical skills as a composer for an ensemble, showing us that even as he matures, he only grows in stature with his mastery in coaxing such fine performances of enjoyable music from a quartet of talented musicians playing as one here.
The results are textured with layers that are at times ethereal and soaring; this ensemble transcends the written notes to create something alive and resonant. Weber plainly knows what he wants from this lineup and, on Endless Days, he achieves his vision with spare, articulate, yet technically astute musical landscapes that take you on a worthwhile journey.