Wolfgang Muthspiel’s second album for ECM may have been released late in the year, but I’ve spotted it creeping into a few ‚best of 2016‘ lists. It’s not hard to see qhy. The Austrian guitarist has augmented his regular trio comprising himself, drummer Brian Blade and the bass of Larry Grenadier with Brad Mehldau’s piano and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. Collectively, they weave quiet, magical spells through a set of ten originals, one contributed by Mehldau, the rest by Muthspiel.
London Jazz interviewed Muthspiel just as he released his first ECM album a couple of years ago and invited him to accept the title of ‚world’s quietest guitarist‘. He gracefully declined the epithet (*), but this is quit, subtle music, albeit suffused with a myriad of colors and imbued with gentle urgency throughout by his band of master collaborators.
The title track Rising Grace opens the set, a flowing piece, melody spiraling away with Akinmusire’s fluted tones doubling the piano and floating over the bubbling accompaniment. Piano, trumpet and guitar comment on each other rather than solo. Intensive Care is a painstakingly unfolded, slowly pulsing collective meditation. It’s spellbinding. Triad Song and Father and Sun quicken the pace, Akinmusire sketching out the more overt and appealing melodies. Mehldau’s contribution Wolfgang’s Waltz skips along, the pianist solo inventive and expansive upping the energy again. Superonny has a filament of a rocky groove trace through it and Boogaloo a fractured moody pulse and distorting guitar. Den Wheeler Den Kenny is Muthspiel’s nod to the late, great Canadian and the band weaves a patchwork of moods, the guitar and Akinmusire particularly drawing out emotional highs as they lead the improvisation.
This is finely wrought music with no particular musician in the foreground although they each take the lead at times. The focus and creative energies of the formidable band are always in the service of the whole sound A delightful, beautiful album.
(*) Muthspiel’s reasoning was that there was a more deserving candidate.