Wolfgang Muthspiel - Where The River Goes

Label: ECM Records, 2018

Personnel - Wolfgang Muthspiel: guitar; Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet; Brad Mehldau: piano; Larry Grenadier: bass; Eric Harland: drums.


In order to address a new set of never-recorded compositions, Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel reenlists the same American musicians who had brought Rising Grace, his previous album, to life. The guitarist builds up Where The River Goes as a natural follow-up to its predecessor but offering new experiences with each tune, a fruit of his deep musical sensibility.

Pensive guitar expressions introduce the title track right before they are turned into systematic chordal fluxes accompanied with gentle single-note delineations from pianist Brad Mehldau. The lyric vein inspires the soloists - fabulous trumpet player Ambrose Akinmusire sounds sharp and candid; Muthspiel brings some folk influence into the jazz linguistic domain; and Mehldau, invariably conveying interesting ideas, outlines precise phrases articulated with gusto.

The title “For Django” (supposedly penned for guitarist Django Reinhardt) should make us think about some sort of swinging treatment, which doesn’t happen. Instead, the piece feels more thoughtful than precipitous, becoming immersed in a dignified solemnity that never darkens. This lightness in mood is effectively corroborated by bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Eric Harland, who restrain from pushing too far, and reinforced through a passage that promotes end-to-end communication between piano and guitar. Akinmusire justifies the constant calls from his fellow musicians, pulling off soaring solos that nobody else can match. Afterward, he lays down the melody of “Descendants” with lingering notes and fine focus. Although the piece starts nostalgically crystalline, seeking a certain amount of ambiguity and actually getting it with the contribution of slightly dissonant bends from the bandleader, it ends up being shaken by an intense rhythmic passage.

After “Clearing”, a complete spontaneous creation that touches modern classical and cyclical minimalism, it's time for the acoustic glow of “Buenos Aires”, a solo guitar portrait of the Argentinean capital.

The initially ruminative “One Day My Prince Was Gone” enjoys the exploratory freedom for a while, before exhibiting unison lines over a swinging rhythm. This ultimate thrill anticipates Mehldau’s “Blueshead”, which stands up for bop-derived melodies and solos containing abundant call-response interaction.

Muthspiel returns to the acoustic guitar introspection on the closing piece, “Panorama”, decompressing through amiable chromatic shifts within the arpeggiated movements.

The quintet, united by a strong rapport, adopts this uniform, exquisite approach to Muthspiel’s writing, creating a catchy narrative that incorporates both warm and glacial developments.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Where The River Goes ► 04 - Clearing ► 07 - Blueshead

Wolfgang Muthspiel - Rising Grace

Wolfgang Muthspiel: guitars; Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet; Brad Mehldau: piano; Larry Grenadier: bass; Brian Blade: drums.


Wolfgang Muthspiel, an Austrian guitarist/composer who feels comfortable both in acoustic and electric settings, has a new album, his third on ECM Records. 
In Driftwood (2014), his previous work for that label, he counted on the bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Brian Blade, a longtime associate, to bring his compositions to life. 
In Rising Grace, a seamless preparation of post-bop and classical, he expands the trio into a quintet with the addition of reputable trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and pianist Brad Mehldau.

Their adventure starts with the title track, a gracious piece where sonorous articulations interlace one another, floating like dust in the wind. Muthspiel plays the acoustic guitar and his open chords go perfectly well with Mehldau’s textural lines. Akinmusire’s trumpet entering in a suspended mode, nearly touches the style of Kenny Wheeler, the honoree in “Den Wheeler, Den Kenny”. 
Guitarist and pianist combine flawlessly once again in the acoustic “Intensive Care”, a spacious, slow waltz that draws symmetric melodies over trenchant harmonic patterns.
The bandleader switches to the electric guitar in the tuneful “Triad Song”, likely the easiest tune to empathize with. By turns, it features Mehladu’s enchanting lyricism, Muthspiel’s equilibrated language, and Akinmusire’s tranquilizing and clamant melodic phrases. 

Father and Son” is a nomadic adventure that leans on world music. Grenadier drives the caravan, laying down spellbinding grooves and establishing an appealing foundation with the help of Blade, whose drumming is imperatively suave. Meanwhile, Akinmusire continues to impress whenever he intervenes.
Mehldau wrote “Wolfgang’s Waltz” for the guitarist, who goes pure jazzy during his solo, while the ruminative “Superonny” and “Boogaloo” have an assured foot on contemporary jazz, relying on audacious compound meters to flow.

Guiding the nifty quintet with self-assurance, Muthspiel creates imaginary landscapes whose limpid tones and polished forms bring optimism, introspection, and clarity. Those are real. 
Defying specific categorizations, Rising Grace is pure charm and musical aesthetics.

         Grade  A-

         Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Rising Grace ► 03 – Triad Song ► 07 – Boogaloo