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Wolfgang Muthspiel / Benjamin Koppel / Scott Colley / Brian Blade: Complements Incarnate

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The inveterate musiclover knows all too well how the attraction(s) of certain musician(s) names invariably leads to the satisfaction of hearing them, live or on record, as leaders or accompanists. Bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade are two such musicians whose listing in the credits of any album or showbill invariably invites observation: appearing together and separately on stage and in the studio with saxophonist/composer Benjamin Koppel on Mulberry Street Symphony (Unit Records, 2022) or touring with Julian Lage and the late Chick Corea, both men have the technique and experience to complement their counterparts yet still retain their own distinct personalities. Accordingly, their work with Austrian-born guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel and the aforementioned bandleader from Denmark stand as object lessons in the exhibition of their own virtues as well as those with whom they collaborate.

Wolfgang Muthspiel
Dance of the Elders
ECM Records
2023

Having toured extensively together in 2022, it should only stand to reason that Muthspiel, Colley and Blade would deign to reconnect with their shared muse(s) at the very outset of Dance of the Elders. And so there is nearly eleven minutes of the fittingly titled "Invocation," whereby the guitarist, bassist and drummer find their shared bearings before proceeding off to explorations of the frontman's five pieces of original material including his homage to roots, "Folksong," as well as covers of Joni Mitchell's "Amelia" and Brecht and Weill's "Liebeslied." Not that any validation of these delicately-nuanced forty-four some minutes is necessary—the harmonic notes that most appropriately decorate this title song come from all three instrumentalists—but co-production and mixing by the label founder himself Manfred Eicher, along with with the artist and Gérard de Haro—stands as affirmation of the unity of effort on the part of all involved. Both acoustic and electric textures benefit from the sonic definition and, as a result, the album conjures an altogether mesmerizing effect.

Koppel/Colley/Blade
Perspective
Cowbell Music
2023

In contrast to the hypnotic tranquility of its companion piece, Perspective radiates a brisk and playful air from the very start of its fifty-three minutes. "Alphabet Thief" proceeds directly into the blues-derived "Coconino County" and then, in giving way to the loping sax lines and assertive rhythm work of "Precipice," these three musicians' natural affinity for improvisation coalesces. The remaining originals of Koppel and Colley further illuminate the premise, logically culminating in the threesome's self-composed piece "After Time.'' The individual and collective self-discipline precludes random tangents and instead aids in generating cohesive instrumental statements: the deference of one player to the other in the midst of the interplay only enhances the display of technique. Accordingly, "For Sy Johnson" finds the bassist leading the way, with the drummer in tandem and the saxophonist adding only the punctuation necessary. Meanwhile, the depth of emotion is tangible on "37.33 Seconds," the shared yearning permeating the performance indicative of the human factor that pervades these nine numbers.

Tracks and Personnel

Dance of the Elders Tracks: Invocation; Prelude To Bach; Dance Of The Elders; Liebeslied; Folksong; Cantus Bradus; Amelia. Personnel: Wolfgang Muthspiel: acoustic and electric guitars; Scott Colley: double bass; Brian Blade: drums.

Perspective Tracks: Alphabet Thief; Coconino County; Precipice; Speed Cubing Rubiks; 37.33 Seconds; Imaginary Canvas; for Sy Johnson; Don't rise; After Time. Personnel: Benjamin Koppel: alto saxophone; Scott Colley: bass; Brian Blade: drums.

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