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Wolfgang Muthspiel - Dance of the Elders

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    Posted: 07 Oct 2023 at 3:13pm

recording of the week,Wolfgang Muthspiel - Dance of the Elders

by Barney Whittaker 

The contemporary jazz trio takes many forms, from the time-honoured lineup of piano-bass-drums to more ambitious chordless configurations and beyond. Wolfgang Muthspiel’s latest setup falls somewhere between. Along with a solid drum and bass backline, the Austrian guitarist’s current trio returns with a solid backline rhythm section that sets up the usual hierarchy of musical teamwork ie. lead and support, before immediately blurring the distinctions between them.

This isn’t the first time the musician has appeared on the prestigious ECM label. In fact, his first appearance was on the sublime Travel Guide (2013) alongside fellow international axemen Ralph Towner and Slava Grigoryan, a record which saw Muthspiel share nearly half the album's writing credits. Over the following years, he has pushed himself as a performer and composer, with several more impressive credits to his name. 2014 saw his first ECM collaboration with drummer Brian Blade, one of the most prolific session musicians currently working and alumnus of the freshly minted generation of jazz greats. Though the pair had worked together as early as the turn of the century, it has been through their recent tenure, not to mention the recent addition of bassist Scott Colley, that the group has evolved into a sympathetic and cohesive unit. 

The first track is entitled ‘Invocation’ and much like its name suggests, the piece slowly unravels in a summoning incantation of the album’s titular elders, their ancestral presence making itself known slowly but surely with every passing caress of Muthspiel’s effective guitar-delay. ‘Prelude to Bach’ sees an immediate departure from this style, however, as the leader dons an acoustic alternative; the contrast of arpeggiated nylon fingerpicking is already a rich contrast to what we have just heard, though similarly matching in stillness and serenity. The harmonics of Colley’s bass ring out beneath in a gently grounded way. In the same vein, I’ve never heard a drummer communicate with such range as Blade manages to convey. The percussive whispers of his playing seemingly emerge out of nowhere and, before having realised, they dissipate into a hidden dynamic all of their own. 

The classical theme is developed on title track, ‘Dance of the Elders’, a much jauntier number and the first real suggestion (to my ears) of quantifiable rhythm so far. And yet again, in spite of this newfound drive, the players’ commitment to softness remains palpable – their precision, quietly strong. Amplified by handclaps, the micro-intensity reaches boiling point and yet somehow still manages not to overflow atop the many ins and outs of this lilting gyration of a tune. Kurt Weill’s ‘Liebeslied’ is next, a darkly colourful rendition that evokes all the adumbral grime of the composer’s original setting in a refreshing fashion. It’s not without its grey areas, though, and it's this crucial balance which is key to the trio’s relationship with one another. 

The lead single, ‘Amelia’, a deep cut from Joni Mitchell’s unique jazz classic Hejira (1976) closes the album, by which time Muthspiel has plugged back in to deliver some reverently phrased touches of Frisellesque beauty. In the immortal songstress’ opening verse of the same song, "the hexagram of the heavens" is immediately brought to life through the leader’s exquisite physicality. There’s even time for a solo from Colley who rises to the occasion, confidently venturing out from his supporting role to adopt a refined melodic approach before calmly retreating. As for Blade, well, you'll hardly know he’s there – more to his credit, indeed.

In essence, this is one of our great contemporary formations. With time, the group has resolutely adapted to the ‘less-is-more’ ethos and then run a mile with it. With this new record triumphantly carrying the torch on from their previous work, Angular Blues (2020) and with Eichner at the controls, what more from these musical storytellers could one ask?


Dance of the Elders 

Wolfgang Muthspiel

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

from www.prestomusic.com 

Edited by snobb - 07 Oct 2023 at 3:13pm
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