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Wolfgang Muthspiel: Where The River Goes

Mark Sullivan By

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Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel returns with the same lyrical magic that characterized his previous quintet recording Rising Grace (ECM, 2016). That quintet—with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, pianist Brad Mehldau and bassist Larry Grenadier—is altered only by the substitution of drummer Eric Harland for Brian Blade.

Muthspiel begins the title tune unaccompanied on electric guitar, with Mehldau joining in on piano for a brief duet. Akinmusire's playing of the theme cues the rest of the band to join in. As on the previous album, it is immediately clear that the music will be far more conversational than the conventional jazz approach of head plus solos. But there is space for fine guitar and piano solos.

"For Django" is a dedication to the British composer/pianist (and tenor horn player) Django Bates, whose compositions have had a big impact on Muthspiel. So it seems appropriate that this gentle evocation is not a guitar feature, opening with piano and giving a trumpet solo the main spotlight. "Descendants" continues the chamber jazz approach by beginning with electric guitar and trumpet. The dramatic rhythmic bridge is driven along by Harlan's propulsive drumming, the closest thing to a drum solo in the set (along with a similar coda on "Blueshead").

"Clearing" is the first collective composition from this band on record. It has a remarkable rhythmic opening section—not typical of ECM improvisations—which then dissolves into an atmospheric rubato. The lyrical final section introduces Muthspiel's classical guitar, which leads into the solo piece "Buenos Aires." It is a beautiful tone poem, again standing out by lacking the expected tango references. Muthspiel completes the main classical guitar-oriented part of the program on "One Day My Prince Was Gone" (which also gives bassist Grenadier a chance to shine).

As on the previous album, Mehldau contributes one tune, the bebop-oriented "Blueshead." This is by far the most straight-ahead jazz in the program, and it is enjoyable to hear the band execute the twisting head, as well as a round of energetic, unrestrained solos. Classical guitar comes back for the closer, "Panorama." It should be said that this combination of electric guitar and classical guitar is unusual: usually electric guitarists double on steel-string acoustic guitars. The fact that Muthspiel has played the instrument in the MGT trio with Ralph Towner (the leading improvising classical guitarist in jazz) should be all that needs to be said about his classical guitar chops.

Another beautiful album from this quintet, and one which rewards close listening. Hopefully they will continue to reconvene periodically as their busy individual schedules allow.

Track Listing: Where The River Goes; For Django; Descendants; Clearing; Buenos Aires; One Day My Prince Was Gone; Blueshead; Panorama.

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

Title: Where The River Goes | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: ECM Records

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