It was surprising to see this album chart in the latest UK jazz and blues chart yesterday at no.13. Solo bass records rarely fly off the shelves. While charting is no indication of quality necessarily in its own right when you really like an album it's always good to know it's doing well from a sales point of view because more people are putting their money where their mouths are than is normally the case because most new jazz sells in tiny numbers. Some albums take many years to achieve the sort of sales random pop stars take for granted. And note only this week a mere 56 years after release did the greatest jazz album in jazz history A Love Supreme make platinum, in other words 1 million sales in the US alone.
Avignon kidnaps your ears for a number of compelling reasons: it is a highly unusual sound and while the Gérard de Haro mix is new to this year the sound processing technology that Weber avails of for live performance in the 1990s is very different to an equivalent today, actually a lot more human in many ways. Then there is the bravery of the concept. The German's timbral imagination and rich soaring melodicism jumps consciousness out of that place and time to be transferred to a home-listening experience via this recording long since stored in the ECM vaults.
Weber finds different parts of his brain to express certain ideas whether accompanying himself or playing the lead line. And so you get a real sense of his compositional style direct from the source via this method, an insight that could not be as fully grasped as hearing him play in a band even when given lots of space as he was within Jan Garbarek's great quartet of the day.
Weber, one of the giants of German jazz known far beyond Europe (his masterpiece is the 1974-released album The Colours of Chloë), retired from playing following a stroke in 2007 and now in his eighties has this year been the subject of a beautiful tribute on Lyle Mays' last recording fittingly titled 'Eberhard'. Mays' marimba and vibes-flavoured orchestrated piece should be listened to along with this I think given how much integrity that piece has and how much their minds met.
This Avignon recording took place at a double bass festival organised by Weber's fellow bassist Barre Philips in the historic French city famous for another kind of bridge, not the bass kind. Classically trained and with a very panoramic compositional sense as attuned to the avant-garde and art-pop music as American jazz, you'd swear even there are uncloying intimations of a Sting melody (summoning up 1988's 'Fragile') from Weber a couple of minutes in on 'Trio For Bassoon and Bass' twangingly delivered during the album for example.
Some of the tracks on Avignon owe their origins to earlier albums Orchestra (1988) and Pendulum (1993), Weber live used pedals to play back his just-created riffs to play over and experiment with using a space age looking body-less 5 string bass that looked as if had just emerged from a brutal work bench. Soothing and pristine there is a lot to listen to here, and Weber can challenge you even among all this balm when he switches to arco and embraces starkness as he does on 'Pendulum' where there is a lonely wildness that he tames and faces down. And yet it is ethereal bittersweet melodicism that wins the day and soundtracks his own unique sound world so magisterially. SG