Muthspiel/Grenadier/Blade: Driftwood (ECM 2349)



Wolfgang Muthspiel guitar
Larry Grenadier double bass
Brian Blade drums
Recorded May 2013 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

After making his ECM debut in the company of Ralph Towner and Slava Grigoryan on 2013’s Travel Guide, Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel takes on his first leader date for the label. And with good cause, because its sounds have been an important part of his evolution as an artist, not least of all through his studies with the great Mick Goodrick. With such a background to go on, it should be no surprise that Muthspiel is a suitable fit for, while also expanding the exploratory mission of, ECM. And in the fine company of bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Brian Blade, his star shines even more brightly.

Muthspiel and friends

Excepting the regenerating spiral of the instantaneously composed title track, all tunes are from Muthspiel’s pen, artfully shuffled between electric and acoustic leads. The former bookend the set, starting with the tracery of “Joseph”—in the center of which Muthspiel exploits a range of effects, from grunge to echoing parabolas in single turns of phrase—and ending with “Bossa for Michael Brecker,” an appropriately marbled tribute to the late, great saxophonist. Its opening gestures paint the dotted center line down a road that continues even after the album nominally ends. Muthspiel sails across its pavement toward a classic unity. The electric guitar glows with subconscious hues in the pastel-colored “Highline,” in which its overdubbed ghost keens distantly as the rhythm section gathers momentum for a runway jam that seems about to lift off at any moment but is content in dancing with the anticipation of doing so. And in “Lichtzelle” (Light cell), that same guitar joins drums in a duet of seeking points and lines.

“Uptown” starts off the acoustic selections in groovier territory and, from the underlying pulse and slightly dissonant borders, reveals a touch of Towner. Between the delicious syncopation and a nimble solo from Grenadier, it turns out to be one of the most unforgettable tracks to come from ECM in a long time. “Cambiata” is a uniform, laid-back piece of cinematic beauty, while “Madame Vonn” is the album’s consummate ballad. As the ponderous shadow of “Uptown,” it has a classic—if also melancholic—skin.

Driftwood may be a study in contrasts, but is ultimately one of enmeshment. It shows a musician not at the top of his game, but embodying the game itself, working his fingers into the strings with meticulous freedom until each scores a quiet, melodic goal without the need for fanfare.

(To hear samples of Driftwood, click here.)

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