Florian Weber is a talent worth watching.
Florian Weber’s second recording on the ECM label features an all-star band of New York’s best new jazz musicians in drummer Nasheet Waits, bassist Linda May Han Oh and trumpeter Ralph Alessi. Lucent Waters puts the German pianist in heady company, playing mostly ruminative composition that brim with atmosphere and strong improvisation.
Weber came of notice in the United States primarily through his association with alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, with whom he recorded twice between 2007 and 2012. He has also spent recent studio time with luminaries such as Lionel Loueke, Thomas Morgan, Donny McCaslin and Dan Weiss.
Curiously, Weber is one of the few German jazz pianists to make a mark in the United States. It makes sense, then, that this venture was made for ECM, the renowned independent label based in Munich and headed by legendary producer Manfred Eicher. ECM has defined the careers of such jazz giants as guitarists Pat Metheny and John Abercrombie and pianists Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett. Eicher’s releases are among the most sonically distinctive and identifiable of the last 50 years, featuring an aesthetic that tends to the open, the gorgeous and the atmospheric.
Lucent Waters sounds every bit like quintessential ECM. “Butterfly Effect,” for example, begins with piano, bass and drums, almost without tempo, setting out an impressionistic and hushed bed over which Alessi’s open-belled trumpet states a beautiful melody at ballad tempo. Waits shows mastery of atmosphere, quietly chiming his cymbals to create a slow-pulsing momentum. Oh is beautifully recorded on the bottom, moving conversationally across the harmonic content of the composition, as the leader layers his subtle, searching chords into the conversation. The sense of atmosphere and space that permeates so many ECM recordings serves this track well, with Oh’s solo floating in suspended animation between cymbals and piano and, remarkably, Alessi’s horn seems as soft and cushioned as the bass. During Weber’s solo, the other instruments gradually fade away and climb back in, temporarily creating an even more spacious and suspended feeling as the performance sinks into mist.
This kind of impressionistic loveliness is also a key part of the opening suite of pieces related to water. “Brilliant Waters” is a whispered, slow-motion cascade for the piano trio alone, for example—just a prelude that comes in gently. “Melody of a Waterfall” places Waits’ drums up front, but Weber soon enters with another set of chiming arpeggios that weave together with the toms and a bass solo to create a sense of flowing motion. The trumpet doesn’t enter until the third part (“From Cousteau’s Point of View”), where Alessi’s pretty line rolls atop another set of arpeggiated figures from the piano. Weber’s piano solo, which begins with a refreshing harmonic shift, also gives Oh and Waits license to play more polyrhythms and generate more heat—more turbulent waters, I suppose—before the gentle waves return for Alessi’s statement.
The band has more edge when it chooses. “Time Horizon” starts from an aggressive attack by Waits at the start, to inquisitive solo piano, to a throbbing ostinato bass groove that propels Weber and Waits to a thrilling collective improvisation. “Fragile Cocoon” features Alessi’s most acrobatic improvisation of the date, emerging from a tasty, repeating theme that keeps the band cooking. Then “Schimmelreiter” concludes this three-song run with another trio performance that begins as a ballad and builds up a sense of flurry and clutter on Weber’s solo.
It’s hard to know what Weber and this band might sound like if they were released a bit from the ECM aesthetic. On “Schimmelreiter,” we can hear the pianist moaning along with his solo for a bit, inevitably bringing to mind that quirk in the playing of labelmate Jarrett. Does Weber really sound like Jarrett as a pianist? No, but the meditative tone of so much of the music on Lucent Waters, alternating with peaks of lyricism and atmospheric drive, seems to echo the core sound that Jarrett and Eicher developed together. Even “Honestlee,” a composition for the piano trio meant to reflect Weber’s time with Lee Konitz, seems to carry a Jarrett-ian tinge rather than a sense of Konitz.
With that caveat noted, careful listening can get you past the ECM mood to the individual strengths of this music. The interaction between Oh and Weber, for example, on “Honestlee,” has a mathematical intelligence at its core, as they play improvised counterpoint that is in exquisite balance. Weber is a careful player more likely to lean on his technique in his compositions but who pulls back to greater subtlety as he improvises, creating lean, minimalist figures that are toyed with in fascinating ways. Waits never dominates a performance, but repeated listenings suggests the degree to which every moment of every composition is being generated by his sense of atmosphere as well as pulse.
Lucent Waters puts together a superb band that surely has more colors than it shows off here. And Florian Weber is a talent worth watching. Even the relatively monotone version captivates.