Mick Goodrick and Wolfgang Muthspiel: Musical Synthesis
AAJ: Mick has that ECM type sound in his playing, as does Ralph Towner with whom you recorded an album [MGT, From a Dream (Material Records, 2009)], where the music is very open and fluid. It's not quite jazz and it's not quite classical, but something in-between. Did the ECM sound have an influence on you when you were coming up?
WM: Absolutely, Ralph is another player who's solo records really influenced me because he mixed improvised music with that classical sound. Years later we were able to meet and work on a project together, which was really fun for me. Guys like Ralph, Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett and the albums of Dave Holland were an initiation into the jazz world for me. Only later did I go back and check out the older, more traditional players like Bill Evans, for example.
AAJ: Live at the Jazz Standard finds the two of you in a duo situation, sans rhythm section. Why did you decide to record the album with just the two of you, rather than also bring along bass and drums?
WM: That question never came up because when we perform, we always play duo. There were rare occasions where we had bass and drums join us, but basically we always play duo. It's nice not to have those other two instruments in this setting, especially when playing standards, because we have a bit more freedom to explore the harmonic, melodic and rhythmic possibilities of those tunes.
I think that freedom would be hard to uphold if we had a bassist or drummer in the group. I love this fabric with Mick because it's an interaction, but each of us is doing our own thing, which becomes interactive as we play. It's a different kind of interplay than what would happen in a full band and I really enjoy playing in that setting with Mick.
MG: I think the guitar duo is a really great combination because of the fact that the instruments are capable of doing single-note melodies, multiple melodies, bass and harmonic functions as well. It's one of the best duo combinations period. One of the things that's most pronounced on the recording, is that our playing is very interactive.
We never think, "I'm going to comp and Wolfgang will solo for two choruses and then we'll switch." It never happens that way. Also, maybe if he's soloing and I'm comping and I hear something that he's doing and react melodically, we can change functions. That's one of the things that I think makes us unique when we play in a duo situation.
AAJ: Because you have this extra layer of freedom in the duo, are you thinking mostly of the harmony or melody of the tune when you are improvising in this context?
WM: I think mostly of the harmony and about what Mick is playing at the time. Depending on Mick's comping, I would change my approach to react to what he's doing. I can't praise Mick enough. The comping he does on the record is absolutely brilliant. It very modern, very inventive, but very structural, it's perfect for that situation. To me, even with all his success, Mick is still a highly underrated musician.
AAJ: The record is a mix of original tunes, songbook and jazz standards. Since you've both been playing for a number of years, and have probably played these particular standards thousands of times, how do you keep them from becoming monotonous after all these years?
MG: I guess it's more a matter of who you play with than what you play. With Wolfgang, we never know where the music will lead us at any minute, which is one of the things that I like so much about our duo. The material might not be the most important thing. Maybe it's what we do with it that's important. When we're improvising we're creating our own melodies over the harmonic structure of the tunes, and these standards became standards because they have a harmonic structure that we just don't get tired of playing, even over the course of a lifetime.
AAJ: When I think of a live jazz album there are usually four or five tracks that are much longer than studio recordings. But, you guys choose to feature a longer set list of shorter songs on Live at the Jazz Standard. What was the thought process behind going with more, shorter tracks on the record, rather than featuring fewer tunes where you're both really stretching out?
WM: There was twice as much material from the night that we recorded than made it onto the record. I listened to all of the tunes and just choose the tracks that I felt sounded the best. A lot of the tunes that we featured had long intros that didn't make it onto the record. Featuring long, stretched-out tunes just didn't match with our concept of the record, and so we ended up going with those shorter tracks.
MG: When we're playing we don't know how long a piece is going to be, because we're improvising, but I don't remember any tune going over ten or eleven minutes, with most being around five to seven minutes. I think most of the time we're trying to do shorter tunes so that we can get more variety over the course of a set.