Dhafer Youssef / Wolfgang Muthspiel: Glow (2007)
Although it's a dual-leader album, in which oud player Dhafer Youssef's performance is at least as important as that of guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel, one of Glow's chief causes for celebration is Muthspiel's on-form presence. After releasing the shimmeringly beautiful Bright Side (Material Records, 2006)a little-known masterpiece which may yet take its place alongside such jazz guitar iconographs as Johnny Smith's Moonlight In Vermont (Roulette, 1953, reissued 2004) and Wes Montgomery's Incredible Jazz Guitar (Riverside, 1960)Muthspiel's project with drummer Brian Blade, Friendly Travelers (Material Records, 2007), was a disappointment, interesting in conception but not entirely convincing in execution.
Glow finds Muthspiel back in immaculate form as both guitarist and producer (significantly, the Blade album was a co-production while the Youssef is solely produced by Muthspiel). The disc reunites the Tunisian oud player and Austrian guitarist after a gap of six years following Muthspiel's playing and composing collaboration on Youssef's Electric Sufi (Enja, 2001). The album, Youssef's breakthrough, was a thrilling, perfectly realized collision of traditional Maghrebi music, European jazz and a lively slab of dirty, visceral rock.
Glow inhabits similar territory, but with a broader, and perhaps deeper, emotional range. In large part this is down to Youssef's singing, which Muthspiel, as producer, has coaxed to new expressive peaks. At times Youssef's voice achieves the ecstatic intensity of the late Pakistani qawwali master Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, at others it suggests the winsome vulnerability of the late electric troubadour Jeff Buckley. He sounds by turns beatific and scary, caressing and chilling, alternating lustrous tenor passages with tortured, almost weeping, falsetto. It's an extraordinary performance.
Extraordinary, too, is the instrumental content and, again, comparisons with Electric Sufi are pertinent. The earlier album was recorded by a nine-piece, the new one by a quintet. The smaller line-up retains a trumpeter, with Tom Harrell replacing Markus Stockhausen, but makes more of the interaction between Youssef and Muthspiel. Both have an exquisite gift for melody, and an understanding of the power of silence, and both place every note with precision. It's a commonplace to say such and such a musician "makes every note count," but Muthspiel, in particular, really does.
Glow uses electronic wizardry with a lighter touch than its predecessor, though textural post-production continues to be a feature of Muthspiel's work. Alegre Correa replaces drummers Mino Cinelu and Will Calhoun, and works in intimate partnership with the young bassist Matthias Pichler (who debuted so brilliantly on Bright Side).
Some music has the ability to condense time, a smaller proportion stretches it. Glow, its every bar a micro-world of eventful creation, is amongst the latter.
Track Listing: Mon Parfum; Babylon; Sand Dance; Mein Versprechen; Etude; Lamento; Maya; Emmerich; Cosmology; Rhapsodie.
Personnel: Dhafer Youssef: voice, oud; Wolfgang Muthspiel: guitars, violin, programming, Fender Rhodes piano; Tom Harrell: trumpet, flugelhorn; Matthias Pichler: bass; Alegre Correa: drums, percussion; Rebekka Bakken: voice (9).