Album reviews

Eberhard Weber – Once Upon A Time – Live In Avignon (rec.1994)

Eberhard Weber – Once Upon A Time – Live In Avignon
(ECM 2699. Album Review by Chris Wheatley)

A wonderfully lyrical bassist who announced himself as a solo artist back in 1973 (with the excellent The Colours Of Chloe), Eberhard Weber has, since then, cemented what amounts to the perfect fit between artist and label. Weber’s highly atmospheric (it could be argued, melancholic) and adventurous sound defines much of the ECM catalogue – cerebral, questioning music which skews towards the introspective. Since suffering a stroke, back in 2007, Weber’s output has been limited, with just two albums in the intervening years. Once Upon A Time – Live In Avignon is not a new recording but an historic one. Recorded in southern France, in 1994, the record finds Weber in the midst of a run of compelling solo concerts. Utilising just his bass, together with electronic manipulations, including tape-loops, Weber achieves astonishing results.

Opener Pendulum lays down the template – mesmeric, melodic bass riffs circle and whirl, moving with breath-taking fluidity and timing. The rhythm catches hold immediately, laying down the groundwork for some remarkable flights of imagination. Somehow, Weber is able to build these runs into the composition without ever sacrificing the tempo. The music, dark-tinged as it is, remains thrilling. Imagine the soundtrack to an intelligent, thoughtful crime movie shot in monochrome and you won’t be far off.

Ready Out There pulses and charges, a vibrant hum of racing sounds and beats. Weber’s forward-thinking attitude here is incredible. Recorded nigh on three decades ago, the slashing, slapping rhythm, with its swirling echoes and undertones, could easily be a blue-print for tomorrow’s ultra-chic club-music. Weber, of course, elevates sound to a far higher plane than that devoted to repetitive movement. Within every track, his art is evolving, and the results are simply extraordinary.

With its slowly unfurling soundscape and Eastern tones, Delirium is no less affecting. Above an undercurrent of vibrating, shifting tones, Weber lets the bass strings dance as expressively as any guitar ever has. It is hard to imagine any player reaching the same level of mercurial communication. Looped lines fly like falcons, graceful, powerful and full of purpose. Over this, Weber coaxes an astonishing breadth of sound from his instrument, from lyrical runs to sax-like squawks and wails, reminding us that he is a unique performer, a one-off whose vision is immense.

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A lengthy cover, perhaps exploration would be a better word, of My Favourite Things is a standout. This is ‘total music’ as another fine bass-player, Jah Wobble, might put it. Here, rhythm and melody combine completely, spilling out fuzzy edges, dense splashes and coalescing patterns which sound wholly organic; a living, breathing entity throbbing with life. Weber pierces the beating heart of the tune, turning it inside out like a subtle piece of origami, unfolding it again into four dimensions – familiar yet transformed. Air takes us out, a brooding, spiralling number which features some spell-binding finger-work.

Fans of Weber, and fans of ECM, are bound to treasure this release. It’s a fascinating document of the musician at his best, and there are few who could match his wondrous jazz canvases.

LINK: Once Upon A Time – Live In Avignon on ECM

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