Wolfgang Muthspiel: Drumfree (2011)
Wolfgang Muthspiel is a hypnotically adept guitarist who seems to have a penchant for exploring the percussion-less musical setting. His previous album, Live At The Jazz Standard (Material Records, 2010), was a technically impeccable guitar duo with Mick Goodrick, and in some ways, Drumfree is a natural extension of the ideas investigated on that album. But here there is an added emotional intensity somewhat overlooked before. Joined by saxophonist Andy Sherrer and bassist Larry Grenadier, the trio explores a range of tonal territories, all the while using guitar and bass to furnish the inventive rhythmic embellishments normally assigned to drums. Additionally, the arrangements provide a pleasing spaciousness as the trio slowly builds each tune into a complete musical statement.
It is immediately apparent from the first track, "Ibrahim," that Muthspiel has found a musical kinsman in Sherrer. Not only does each musician use the openness of the setting to expert harmonic effect, but the saxophonist's big, breathy style is the perfect foil for Muthspiel's combination of lean arpeggio chording and harp-like sweeps. Again in the angular sounding "Tribal Games," guitar and saxophone move from mutual support to improvisational challenge, but with the addition of Grenadier's bass adding even more tension-filled solos before giving way to his always able support. "Double Blues" find the trio exploring an expansive blues format, Muthspiel playing an impressive game of stylistic hide-and-seek as he probes post-bop lines before alighting on two or three bars of twangy blues licks, only to then fly off into an exploratory motif that somehow merges perfectly into the accepted blues pattern. It is a rousing etude of technical merit and emotional veracity.
Taken as a whole, Drumfree is remarkably inviting given its musical prowess. Each musician gives the tunes just enough tonal elasticity, without flying off into musical astrophysics. But, most notably, there is a thoroughly impressionistic feel to the album reminiscent of pianist Bill Evans' more intimate recordingsa touch of minor key melancholy here, a benevolent harmonic subtlety there. Wrapping these strands of aptitude and expression together, Muthspiel, Sherrer and Grenadier have released a memorable instrumental album with Drumfree.
Track Listing: Ibrahim; Tribal Games; Sunspot; Double Blues; This Over That; Ralphone; The Palace (To Wena); Looking For Elba; Raumzeit.
Personnel: Wolfgang Muthspiel: guitar; Andy Scherrer: saxophone; Larry Grenadier: bass.