Hommage à Eberhard Weber [Live]

Pat Metheny / Jan Garbarek / Gary Burton

(Digital Download - Universal #)

Review by Thom Jurek

Jazz tribute albums are a dime a dozen. Often comprising familiar, oft-recorded material, many seem indistinct. Not so Hommage à Eberhard Weber, recorded live in January of 2015 on the occasion of the bassist/composer's 75th birthday. It features a host of collaborators and friends with the SWR Big Band under the direction of Helge Sunde. With the exception of Pat Metheny's suite-like composition "Hommage," everything was written by Weber, who is esteemed for his technique and custom-built instruments and as one of the architects of "the ECM sound." He has been unable to play since suffering a debilitating stroke in 2007. Thanks to technology, he is virtually present on two of these performances. Opener "Resumé Variations" features longtime collaborator Jan Garbarek on soprano saxophone with Weber accompanying -- and soloing -- on tape (culled from his long tenure with Garbarek's touring and recording bands), backed by the SWR. The tune ranges from speculative and ethereal to bluesy and cinematic. Commissioned by the SWR, Metheny wrote the half-hour-plus "Hommage." It marks his return to ECM after a 30-year absence, and reunites most of Gary Burton's influential quintet from the middle of the 1970s: the vibraphonist, the guitarist, drummer Danny Gottlieb, and Weber (who also played on Metheny's second ECM album, Watercolors). The bassist is not only heard, but seen. Metheny based the composition on video footage of Weber's playing during two concerts. He then visually sampled and incorporated him into the work. The guitarist projected video clips of the bassist on an enormous screen -- with full audio -- as the band performed, making him not only a playing member, but a looming presence. It is sublime. Metheny (who had never written on record for a big band before) doesn't sacrifice his own character but fully incorporates Weber's influence in a sweeping statement of lyricism, color, dynamic, and texture. There are wonderful solos by Burton and the composer. Weber solos in a contrasting harmonic duet with bassist Scott Colley that is one of the highlights -- if not the highlight -- of the piece. Gottlieb's cymbals add air, making it euphoric, while the SWR lays a solid foundation for the quintet's improvisation and interplay. The remainder of the album is played by the big band with Burton and soprano saxophonist Paul McCandless (Oregon) as constant soloists. On "Touch," the vibraphonist's playing is imaginative and elegant. On "Maurizius" -- arranged and conducted by Mike Gibbs -- the soprano saxophonist nearly steals the show with his break. The two closers are the pastoral "Türbingen" and the tender "Notes After an Evening." Weber witnessed this concert from the seats; he was by all accounts not only pleased, but moved. This is an understandable response to Hommage à Eberhard Weber, which not only proves an exception to by-the-numbers tribute recordings, but stands as a daunting, creative, and enduring extension of the bassist's work. [The digital edition contains the nine-minute bonus track "Street Scenes."]

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