Pat Metheny, Gary Burton + Danny Gottlieb, “Hommage” (2015): One Track Mind

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You don’t have to know French to understand what the title of this new ECM release is about, but Jan Garbarek, Pat Metheny, Gary Burton and several other ECM notables clearly understood the singular artistry of Eberhard Weber when they convened last January for two nights of Weber’s music at Weber’s native Stuttgart.

The master bassist, composer, bandleader and one of the principal architects of that ‘ECM sound’, he’s truly a living legend who deserves this tribute within his lifetime. Sadly, his own work is in all likelihood, already finished for good, having suffered a debilitating stroke in 2007. But because of his extremely lyrical approach to soloing, the January, 2015 event honoring his musical career witnessed performances of entire compositions built from these solos, performed in large part by the SWR Big Band around historical recordings of Weber’s unscripted performances. Fellow ECM architect Garbarek was on hand with his heartfelt soprano sax for one of these songs, the celestial “Résumé Variations”, which likely had germinated on stage during Weber’s quarter century tenure in Garbarek’s band. The SWR Big Band undertook four more such Weber ‘instant’ compositions on their own.

The centerpiece of this whole ceremony is “Hommage,” led by Pat Metheny. For Metheny’s first appearance on an ECM record in more than thirty years, this was a homecoming for him that went well beyond the record label that put him and other incredible musicians under the same roof at the same time. Weber was present when this skinny, longhaired kid from rural Missouri was preparing to change the rules of fusion and progressive jazz, as both were in Burton’s mid-70s band. Around that time, Weber also served as Metheny’s bassist for his second album Watercolors (1977), becoming unofficially the first bass player in the then-unnamed Pat Metheny Group with Lyle Mays and Danny Gottlieb. Weber and Metheny had all but lost contact since those days, but Weber’s influence on the younger Metheny was lasting. The guitarist recalls in the liner notes that Weber “was not only a hero for me but was someone who I could really learn from; I found his innovative approach to the sound and function of his instrument incredibly inspiring.”

For the thirty-one minute epic, Pat Metheny tracked down not merely live, recorded performances of Weber bass solos, but extended, fully captured solos documented on video, not an easy task. He was able to find only two concerts that fit the bill, but that was enough. Metheny then proceeded to build a big band score around these solos. The idea was to then perform the score with a base quartet alongside a big band (the SWR Big Band) with Weber’s ideas presented on a large screen at the moment they were being created as the musicians expounded on Weber’s ideas, which Metheny calls “almost a form of visual sampling.”

That base quartet, by the way, comprised of Pat Metheny, Burton and Gottlieb, reuniting most of Burton’s Passengers-era quartet. Incidentally, this is possibly the first recorded encounter between Metheny and Gottlieb since 1983’s live Pat Metheny Group album Travels. Scott Colley assumes the bass chair, but filling in a role entirely different than Weber’s, whose superimposed solos are likened more to a voice than an instrument.

Just as Pat Metheny had surely envisioned it, those solos are blended in guilelessly with the ensembles but also plainly so that you can draw a straight line from these improvs to the fully formed composition. And Burton’s presence, such as his turn about five minutes in, serves to remind us how another ECM giant of the label’s classic period was so related to Weber on vision. At around the eleven-minute mark, the song introduces another Weber riff, the basis for another movement. Horns rise up and briefly dominate, then fall out for more of Weber heartfelt remarks, a cue that begins a new pattern. Pat pulls out The Red One, a close cousin emotionally to Weber’s bass, which makes clear where some of Metheny’s impassioned patterns of expressions come from.

After another “mini” movement, Pat Metheny is heard strumming on acoustic guitar on a pastoral vamp and there’s an interesting back and forth between Colley and the videotaped Weber: it’s almost like listening to two completely different instruments. Gottlieb’s signature cymbal-heavy drum solo is another highlight, a souvenir of what was missing from the PMG after he left the group. A final solemn section inspired by an especially ethereal Weber solo puts the spotlight squarely on the German genius and his uncanny ability to make symphonies spring extemporaneously from his stand-up bass.

It was a class reunion to remember. While the man of honor was present, he could not perform live with his old compadres. However, his protégé Pat Metheny did everything he could to construct a performance that could only spring from the fertile mind of Eberhard Weber. And, he succeeded.

Hommage à Eberhard Weber will go on sale September 11, 2015 by ECM Records.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon 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. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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