Florian Weber – Biosphere (2012)

photo courtesy of Fully Altered Media

Typically if you want to find the truly forward-thinking jazz pianist these days, you have to go out to whack jazz, where you’ll find visionaries like Matthew Shipp. But there are exceptions, and Vijay Iyer is a notable one. Now add Florian Weber to that short list with the impending release of his second album,Biosphere.

Like Iyer, the German virtuoso keeps his music fresh by introducing not just any foreign concept into jazz but ones that actually fit. And like Iyer, he doesn’t just experiment with melody, he heads to the frontiers on rhythm, too. And lastly, as I’ll expound on in a bit, he like Iyer looks in places for covers where no one else thinks to look.

Weber wasn’t in great need to prove himself; this classically and Berklee trained pianist validated his potential with a memorable stint with Lee Konitz. His Minsarah trio made a record for Enja in 2006 that won accolades back in his native Germany that led to the Konitz gig and other opportunities. Minsarah, the album, is delectable slice of modern jazz that got too little attention in the States (his cover of Miles Davis’ “E.S.P.” is off the hook), but with Biosphere, Weber takes his game a couple of notches higher.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Vijay Iyer amazes again with his 2012 offering Accelerando]

First, he starts with a different rhythm section (Thomas Morgan, bass; Dan Weiss, drums) and then he adds former Berklee classmate and guitarist Lionel Loueke. Loueke doesn’t perform on every track, but the impact is nonetheless jarring, as he’s one of the few guitarists who can remake the whole harmonics of a song just by being himself. Weber wanted to incorporate African tempos in his music, and the Beninian Loueke is the perfect choice, as he not only innately understands the melodies of that region, but the time signatures, too. Listen to how he glides though the 27/16 meter of “Piecemeal,” (YouTube below) and locks into that groove with Weber’s keyboards.

Weber took another step to distinguish his music further by introducing an electric piano. He doesn’t do so on every song, and he will play the acoustic piano right along with it, but that too changes the harmonics of the song, without dominating it. That, along with Loueke, throws off a different sonic shape on a song like “Filaments” that at its core, remains very much a jazz song.

And then, there are covers that don’t follow convention, either. He retains the distinctive piano ostinato on Coldplay’s “Clocks” but slides shifty rhythms underneath it; Morgan’s high octave bass playfully converses with Weber’s electric piano doing a brief break in the action. Weber discreetly deconstructs the melody of Eric Clapton’s “Tears In Heaven” in a solo piano performance on par with Brad Mehldau. He uses the occasion of a Jamiroquai song (“Cosmic Girl”) to demonstrate how the trio can get down while adhering to the lofty principles and complexity they set out to do.

With all these changes, Weber hadn’t abandoned the things that made his first record an artistic success; his piano technique is astonishing on the acoustic trio performance of “Evolution.” Furthermore, you can find the same angularity on a song such as “Biosphere” that was present on Minsarah, even as the presence of Loueke, the Rhodes and Indian percussion on that track add an exotic flavor to it.

Perhaps, then, Biosphere is an incremental step rather than a big leap after all. Either way, it reveals a bold artist willing to take calculated chances in order to create something interesting apart from the rest within the field of jazz.

Biosphere is slated for release on September 11, by Enja Records.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. Contact him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews.com.