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Wolfgang Muthspiel: Angular Blues

Dan Bilawsky By

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Guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel's fourth leader date for ECM Records—and his second trio outing for that storied imprint, following Driftwood (ECM Records, 2014)—is a marvel of ingenious interplay, musical sensitivity and absolute sincerity. Joining forces with drummer Brian Blade, a longtime band mate, and bassist Scott Colley, a playing partner from the '90s, Muthspiel delves into the deepest recesses of his mind and sound, delivering a program which is as absorbing as it is refreshing.

Recorded in Tokyo after a three-night, six-set run at that city's Cotton Club, Angular Blues provides a picture of an outfit which is at once relaxed and attentive. The opener—"Wondering," with Colley's warm and wide bass in a featured role—is marked by gossamer graces and substantial suggestions, as all three parties weave and dance in five while taking to shadows and light. Switching gears with the title track, Muthspiel and company actively engage in somewhat evasive maneuvers, which have a quirky brilliance and mercurial character all their own, while owing acknowledged debts to both Chick Corea's Three Quartets (Warner Music, 1981) and the music of Thelonious Monk. Then, trading in shifty ideals for pure beauty, the trio delivers the soothing "Hüttengriffe." With gorgeous slow-flow aesthetics and a less-is-more outlook, it's easily one of the most attractive tunes on the record (and in Muthspiel's entire catalog).

Muthspiel works with acoustic guitar on that opening third of the album—a choice which adds to the quiet and nuanced draw of the music—but electric guitar owns the remainder of the program. In some places—when he comps behind Colley on "Camino," for example—the difference is almost unnoticeable. But the subtle boost in presence, timbre and tonal sustain all become a bit more apparent when he's out front there and in feistier settings, like "Ride." Ultimately, though, Muthspiel's personality remains intact and persuasive, regardless of which instrument he chooses to use.

While Angular Blues focuses on original music—with those first five numbers, the dynamic "Kanon in 6/8" and the mesmerizing "Solo Kanon in 5/4" all originating from Muthspiel's pen and mind—the guitarist breaks from the norm of his previous ECM efforts by including a pair of standards in this set. "Everything I Love," with one of Colley's most memorable solos and some playful trading with Blade, and the album-ending "I'll Remember April," prioritizing melody and vibe, both prove to be standouts and complementary inclusions.

Calling this Muthspiel's strongest set for Manfred Eicher's lauded label may downplay the strengths of its forerunners, but that doesn't make it any less true. Angular Blues, both aligned with and apart from that which precedes it, is a winner through and through.

Track Listing

Wondering; Angular Blues; Hüttengriffe; Camino; Ride; Everything I Love; Kanon in 6/8; Solo Kanon in 5/4; I'll Remember April.

Personnel

Wolfgang Muthspiel: guitar; Scott Colley: bass, acoustic; Brian Blade: drums.

Album information

Title: Angular Blues | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: ECM Records

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