Pat pays tribute to his friend Eberhard Weber at a concert in Stuttgart, Germany January 23 by composing a new 30 minute suite for the occasion
The evening was a “This is Your Life” celebration, where Eberhart had been able to choose his guests. The result was not just a gathering of the great and the very great from jazz, but also a fine concert.
Weber, a stalwart of the ECM label, and a popular man, suffered a sudden, debilitating stroke in April 2007, since when he has been unable to play his signature five-string instrument.
Pat had responded to Eberhard's invitation to perform for this special occasion with the emphatic message “YES!!!,” Metheny acknowledges Weber as an important wellspring of inspiration, so rather than just turning up to play – which, given Metheny's touring schedule would have been understandable – he had declared that he wanted to “do something special and offer Eberhard a present”.
In Metheny's new work, “Inspired,” the guitarist had selected video clips of Weber playing solos, from a number of different performances, formed them into a sequence, and written a score for the SWR Big Band and soloists to be performed live, interacting with the videos. Key participants in the performance such as conductor Helge Sunde and drummer Danny Gottlieb were provided a click-track.
If this process sounds highly technical – “very Pat,” one observer was heard to remark – the results were nevertheless sublime. All the complexity served a musical and emotional purpose. There was room for soloists such as Gary Burton, Oregon saxophonist Paul MacCandless, and not least Metheny himself to stretch out.
The writing for big band had character, depth and a strong narrative, with adventurous and quite magical part-writing such as four low flutes and the trombones playing pedal notes over an arpeggiating vibraphone. The ending was particularly touching. Metheny had given Weber's recorded bass the lead voice while his own fingers, sliding up and down the strings, produced ghostly, ethereal sounds.
The first half of the programme was mostly compered by Weber himself from the side of the stage. Mike Gibbs's spacious arrangement of Maurizius was nothing short of a masterpiece. It summed up the best of what American minimalists such as Glass and Adams do – but then adapts their methods, with beautiful harmonic progressions, bringing a totally convincing narrative. The opening was mysterious, nocturnal, minor-ish, the ending quietly celebratory. The solo contributions from Gary Burton and Paul McCandless on soprano saxophone remarkable. A bustling and sassy arrangement of Street Scenes by Libor Sima also stood out.
The German audience caught the sense of the occasion right from the start, with one spontaneous standing ovation leading to another. After the speeches, the first music item was Jan Garbarek, with his, as ever, unforgettable sound and strong stage presence improvising over a Weber solo, I took Up The Runes. It set the tone and held attention throughout.
There was, sadly, just one no-show on the first night. The guitarist Ralph Towner had been instructed by doctors that he needed to have 24 hours rest.
Weber did make one live musical contribution, opting to become one of the select group – Red Norvo and Chick Corea come to mind – who have played one-handed mallet as duo partners for Gary Burton alongside the master vibraphonist himself. The tune was Benny Golson's Killer Joe, which morphed into a triumphant big band arrangement by Mike Gibbs.
Few people are given the opportunity to have their life celebrated in quite such style, and jazz musicians are down-to-earth folk. Weber expressed his evident gratitude with a smile: “You don't repeat a thing like this.”
excerpts from The Telegraph UK