Full marks to the guitarist for his choice of band members. He leads Ambrose Akinmusire, Brad Mehldau on piano, Larry Grenadier on bass and Brian Blade on drums. Not you would have very high expectations with such a line-up. And you won’t be disappointed.
The opening title track gives you all you need: Muthspiel using an acoustic, near-classical sound, Akinmusire gently enunciating the theme which epitomises its title with Mehldau shimmering beneath, Grenadier framing the structure and Bald doing a beautiful job of decorating the beat.
Intensive Care brings new meaning to those two words – it’s not about the anxious pulling of death-defying machines in a hospital room; it’s more about slow, thoughtful attention to detail and nuance of expression, things o which all five players are particular masters. Listen Akinmusire’s little punctuation marks and smear lines and be lifted in wonder.
Triad Song sounds simply joyous (though probably not so simply attained). Again, Akinmusire has the hairs on the back on one’s prickling. His tone and vocal phrasing remind me a little of both Ave Henrichen and Terence Blanchard but he makes them his own. And what about Mehldau’s solo on this track? So perfectly constructed, so naturally felt. Muthspiel follows it with a similarly lovey one of his own.
A tune like Father And Sun feels like a folksong in its directness and charm; Wolfgang’s Waltz is the only non-Muthspiel composition, clearly written in his honour by Mehldau who is always so at home in ¾ time; Superonny and Boogaloo the the band into looser territory; and Den Wheeler Den Kenny pays tribute to an influence on probably all these musicians.
The fabulous thing about this album is that despite it being an all-star affair, rarely have five guys been quite so self-effacing in honor of the more general good of the band and its music. The results have rare beauty.