The release of Eberhard Weber’s box-set Colours could not come at a better time. Set for January 19, the collection will appear just three days prior to his seventieth birthday. For those of us who have been rooting for Eberhard since his stroke in 2008, this collection is a wonderful reminder of a particularly fertile time in the renowned bassist’s career.
Colours is the eponymous title of this three-disc affair, and consists of the original three ECM albums by the Weber-led quartet. The first Colours album, Yellow Fields, appeared in 1975. It was followed by Silent Feet in 1977, and the final Little Movements album in 1980.
The name Colours is a nod to the seminal solo album Eberhard recorded in 1973, The Colours Of Chloë. This was a stylistic breakthrough, not only for Eberhard Weber, but for the nascent Edition of Contemporary Music (ECM) record label as well. Combining elements of the emerging European new music, the minimalism of composers such as Steve Reich, and his own interest in jazz, Weber delivered a landmark LP. With The Colours Of Chloë, Eberhard virtually defined what came to be known as the “ECM Sound” for many years to come.
When Eberhard decided to form a permanent quartet in 1975, he chose Colours as the moniker. The group originally consisted of Charlie Mariano (sax), Rainer Brüninghaus (keyboards), and Jon Christensen (drums). At this point Weber was playing an ingenious, modified stand-up bass that he called the “electrobass". Coupled with his remarkable dexterity and madly inventive playing, the addition of another C string gave his instrument one of the most unique sounds ever.
This is apparent in the opening moments of “Touch,” the lead track from Colours’ debut, Yellow Fields. It is a very inviting tune, and a great introduction to the band. But it is “Sand-Glass” that best shows the strengths of this group. Clocking in at 15:31, the song provides multiple opportunities for individual members to shine. They certainly do not disappoint. The composition tells an engaging story, journeying down multiple musical paths, and yet never meandering into irrelevancy.
Side two of the original LP consisted of two pieces: “Yellow Fields” (10:04) and “Left Lane” (13:37). As may be deduced by the extended times, there is again ample room for the group to branch out. “Yellow Fields” is the most traditionally “jazz” cut on the record.
“Left Lane” is something completely different. It is an amazing collaborative effort. The musician’s comments on each others' playing throughout this song is so organic, you lose sight of who is playing what. It becomes an absolutely brilliant conversation
When it came time to record Silent Feet in 1977, John Marshall had replaced Jon Christensen in the drummer’s chair. Marshall had previously played with Soft Machine, and brought a bit of a rock flavor to Colours. It helped, because the group were facing the formidable task of following Yellow Fields.
They succeeded brilliantly. Opening up with the longest Colours track ever, “Seriously Deep,” (17:48), the band are firing on all cylinders. Weber’s bass solo is stunning, one of his best ever as far as I am concerned. The aggressive change of pace Charlie Mariano’s sax solo employs is exemplary as well. He really gets into it, even venturing into Coltrane territory for awhile.
Listening to Silent Feet, there is something I never would have believed. In fact, I am a bit reluctant to even bring it up, but here goes. Those rabid anti-sampling perfectionists Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan seem to have lifted one of the main changes in the song “Aja” wholesale from the title track. It may be a coincidence, but listen to the tune, starting at the 7:51 mark and see if you disagree.
Overall, Silent Feet is in every way a worthy successor to Yellow Fields. But by 1980, things had changed. The final Colours album, Little Movements was considerably different from its predecessors. The songs were shorter, and much more direct than those of the earlier records. Still, there is some fascinating music here.
The only non-Eberhard composition to appear on a Colours album is “Bali,” written by Rainer Brüninghaus. The tune consists of two fairly distinct parts, and is a real showcase for the Mariano’s sax and flute skills. One of the most unique cuts on any Colours album is Weber’s “Little Movements.” Employing a simple, repeated piano phrase, with various “Cage-ish” elements randomly tossed into the mix, this is a strangely absorbing slice of music.
From 1980 to 2008, Eberhard Weber played with numerous performers, both in the studio and onstage. His versatility never wavered, at least until that fateful day. But in many ways, his work with Colours remains some of his finest.
It may be the tangible feeling of discovery these discs evoke, or it may simply be that nobody makes music like this anymore. But the beauty of the three records Colours recorded is absolutely transcendent at times.