Friday, March 27, 2020

Wolfgang Muthspiel, Angular Blues, with Scott Colley, Brian Blade

I have had the pleasure of covering Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel on these pages (see June 30, 2014, December 13, 2013 articles). There is a new one and it builds on his legacy in the best ways. It's a trio date entitled Angular Blues (ECM 1655).

There is a beautiful three-way dialogue throughout that highlights a very simpatico rapport between Muthspiel, on acoustic for the first three tracks and electric for the rest, the always swinging and subtle Brian Blade on drums, and bassist Scott Colley turning in some of his best playing on disk.

For this, Muthspiel's fourth album as leader on ECM, there is a very appealing mix of well constructed originals and a couple of rather reassuringly fresh takes on old songbook items ("Everything I Love" and "I'll Remember April"), the latter of which are apparently the first standards Wolfgang has committed to wax as leader and fine blowing vehicles they are in the trio's hands.

With this freewheeling date that minds changes or motors through quasi-modal sequences with equal grace, Muthspiel gives notice that his consummate artistry excels with a ripening maturity rewarding to hear.

The three acoustic segments kick off the music with promise. "Wandering" gives Colley the lead melody and both he and Muthspiel get some open improv time that they do not let go by without good commentary and creative frisson. The title cut "Angular Blues" has full blooming abstraction in the head, some ravingly creative three-way interactions and a nice solo space for Blade. And so it goes, with promising openings followed up by well turned successions, all quite strong. Not the least is the final acoustic cut, the very lyrical anthem "Huttengriffe."

We must not neglect to mention the fully burning bop excellence of "Ride." It emits white hot flames and reassures us that the roots of the Jazz heritage continue to refresh and sustain with the patent originality and prowess of these three artists. Bravo!

The most electric and in its own way the most nicely freewheeling is "Kanon in 6/8" which allows Muthspiel to build elaborate multiple contrapuntal lines that Colley responds to beautifully well. The immediately following "Solo Kanon in 5/4" creates even more florid multi-Muthspiel voices that refresh with their extraordinary inventiveness. Both tracks are unforced and natural, super-musical and not the least gimmicky.

The concluding funk-laced "I'll Remember April" reminds us what Jarrett's Standards Trio might do with such things, only with Colley breaking into his own take solo-wise we end up heading toward a different destination. Wolfgang responds with a firmly swung solo of his own, a post-Abercrombie, post-Hall beauty of execution that sums it all up and then goes back to the funky pedal-pointed mantra that quite naturally gives Brian Blade space to comment on Wolfgag's lengthy exposition. It is a fitting end to a very worthwhile set.

After having lived with this music for a few weeks the album stands out to me as a testament to Muthspiel's full-blown artistry, his position among the foremost Jazz guitarists of the present-day. He has arrived, of that there is no doubt. Outstanding album this is. Do not miss it.

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