“Eberhard,” the late-pianist-composer Lyle Mays’ “mini-symphony” dedicated to the great German bassist Eberhard Weber, who had a profound impact on Mays and his longtime collaborator Pat Metheny, has been released [see video below]. We reached out to participants Steve Rodby, who served as co-associate producer and played acoustic bass, and Jimmy Johnson, who played fretless and fretted bass, for their thoughts on the project.
Steve Rodby: “Eberhard” was commissioned by Nancy Zeltsman for the Zeltsman Marimba Festival in 2009, and I was able to play the bass (both electric and acoustic) at that very exciting premiere. Lyle continued to work on it for a bit after that, finishing and finessing a complete MIDI demo of the work, before he stepped away from public music-making altogether and pursued other interests for a decade. In 2019, his health took a bad turn, and at the same time he decided to try to get this piece recorded. As was his way, he continued adding material, expanding orchestration, using his endless imagination to make this piece everything it could be, while setting about assembling a team to make it happen.
Having worked with Lyle so much, both as bassist and producer, and not only with the Pat Metheny Group but also on many of his individual recordings, I was thrilled to contribute. It was recorded in many separate sessions, addressing separate parts, and I came on board late in the process, at one of the final sessions. I added acoustic bass, Mitch Forman played organ, and Bob Sheppard created the searingly awesome tenor solo. After that, Lyle and I were able to continue to work together in our typical production fashion, organizing, and polishing the recorded material as mix preparation, and then mix supervision.
Jimmy Johnson’s elegant, powerfully expressive, and just plain perfect rendering of the first half’s electric bass part had already been added to great effect, setting a very high standard for me to try to maintain. And what you will hear now is the virtuosic mix by Rich Breen, with the handoff between our bass parts morphing from one to the other seamlessly. For me, another dream come true.
Check it out: the bass parts on “Eberhard” clearly showcase Lyle’s signature mastery of both melody-bass composition, and a framework for groove-bass improvisation.
The piece is named after the great bassist Eberhard Weber, a master of both of these bass zones. Weber’s writing had a powerful influence on Lyle: long forms combining written and improvised music in fresh ways, fluid combinations of tempos and styles, use of classical textures and colors, ambient openness, and more. Lyle would continue to express his admiration for Eberhard through the years.
Since Lyle’s passing, I’ve had so much time to reflect on our 40 years together, our incredibly varied professional collaborations (both on the bandstand and in the studio), and what it all has meant and will continue to mean for me. These things are simply too vast to even begin to pin down or sum up, but having this piece live on—as well as all of his magnificent music—has helped focus these ruminations, and helped with healing the pain of our loss. This music fills me with gratitude, makes me happy, and lifts me up, as his musical spirit did so many times over the many decades he was my friend.
Jimmy Johnson: Lyle Mays was a true musical genius and sadly I didn’t know what he was battling when they first contacted me about trying the part I recorded. It was all emails and file exchanging—pretty much how everything has been done over the past year and a half. I had never had the chance to work with Lyle but trumpet player Jon Papenbrook, who was close to the project, was kind enough to get me involved.
The MIDI demo of this epic piece was already amazing. That made me realize Lyle heard all the music in his head before anybody else played a note. To me that meant that the assignment was to play exactly what he wrote as truly as I could. He wasn’t looking for an interpretation, he really meant all those notes and their attached nuances. So that’s what I tried to do and I’m glad he liked the results. Or, I guess, I’m glad I was able to get close enough to what he had in his mind for that part.
After the fretless melody there is a continuation of the electric bass part through the middle section of the piece until Steve Rodby comes in on acoustic. I had one suggestion here and that was to switch to my regular fretted bass. That bass takes up a bit less space in the audio spectrum than my fretless. So my reasoning was that when Rodby entered we would hope that to be the “King of Bass,” with the deepest tone to take us through the remainder of the song. I guess Lyle agreed so that second section is with frets.
It sure is a lovely piece of music but listening and knowing it was his last makes it hard to get through without leaky eyes. I was extremely honored to be a part of it.
Purchase the Album: Here