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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Eberhard Weber Colours

Colours Eberhard Weber

Though only three albums were recorded under the Colours flag, presented together in this handsome box set, they chronicle a bold time time when elements of jazz and classical sensibilities found common ground, and stylistic boundaries became increasingly porous.

Though some of the lean aesthetics of Eberhard Weber’s Colours owe a partial hat-tip in the direction of Weather Report’s more circumspect moments (1974‘s Mysterious Traveller), Weber and his colleagues opted for a melancholic, Satie-like stillness that was a million miles removed from the fast and furious fusion, or at the other end of the spectrum, the belligerent clatter of the free improvisation scene.

Theirs was above all an elegant sound that took the cool cod-classical implications of the MJQ and packed it off toward tougher, Arctic climes where a glacial poise and chilled-out grace was waiting to be explored and exploited.

Acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes and oh-so-subtle synthesiser are combined by Rainer Bruninghaus’s into a shimmering minimalism which haunts rather than dominating. This timbral approach creates plenty of room for the warm pulse of Weber’s bass work to burrow and and groove. Encompassing a lyrical and discursive style, Weber nevertheless keeps things close and tight when he’s backing Charlie Mariano’s incisive soprano sax.

There’s a zen-like clarity and brevity at the heart of the American saxophonist’s playing, having converted his years of playing (Stan Kenton in the 50s and early '60s Mingus) into pure and deceptively simple, cliché-free lines of quicksilver. Like Wayne Shorter, Mariano knows that one note counts just as much as one hundred.

Though drummer Jon Christensen’s playing on the first Colours album, Yellow Fields (1975) is exemplary, it’s not until the addition of John Marshall (still a member of Soft Machine) on Silent Feet (1977) and Little Movements (1980) that the more demonstrative characteristics of Weber’s compositions were fully developed. More than most drummers in the jazz-rock world, Marshall perfectly combines sharp-shooting precision with a rowdy exuberance.

Of this trio Yellow Fields is probably the one that represents a significant point of departure which so many others would seek to emulate. The appeal and popularity of modern-day outfits such as EST, et al, owe something to Weber and Bruninghaus's Spartan-like visions.

With Weber having been unable to play professionally since his stroke in 2007, and the death of Mariano in 2009, the box is both reminder and tribute to some truly powerful voices in the jazz world.

If there’s one complaint, it’s that the individual albums, presented in austere white card sleeves, didn’t come with reproductions of the original folksy artwork. That aside, whether you choose to dive in at the deep fluid centre of Silent Feet, work your way back to the slow-burn beginnings of Yellow Fields or pick up the quick-fire, prosaic world created in Little Movements, recordings are as beautiful as these deserve not only to be celebrated but savoured in equal measure.

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