Where The River Goes
Wolfgang Muthspiel guitar
Ambrose Akinmusire trumpet
Brad Mehldau piano
Larry Grenadier double bass
Eric Harland drums
Recorded February 2018, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineers: Gérard de Haro and Nicolas Baillard
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: October 5, 2018
Where The River Goes doesn’t so much pick up where Rising Grace, guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel’s second leader date for ECM, left off as add sub-chapters and interludes to its story. Drummer Brian Blade is replaced here by Eric Harland, while core band members Ambrose Akinsmusire (trumpet), Brad Mehldau (piano), and Larry Grenadier (bass) are carried over in the creative equation. While each musician has leveled his own combination of power and grace in respective projects, in this configuration a certain ease of expression prevails, allowing them to luxuriate in the resonance of an exclusive spirit.
The title track introduces the strengths of each player in turn. Muthspiel’s ability to establish a framework of quiet integrity is demonstrated in his unaccompanied intro. Mehldau’s unparalleled lyricism eases into frame with the tenderness of a child awakening in Saturday-morning sunlight. Grenadier likewise transitions from whisper to declaration, lubricating every joint for want of a healthy body. Harland treats cymbals like drums and drums like cymbals, lending warmth to a frost-kissed scene. Akinmusire, for his part, is like a daytime moon: almost surreal yet an undeniable reminder of celestial forces at work beyond the firmament. The more hauntingly rendered “Clearing,” a group improvisation, is another example whereby layers of space and time are delicately upended in favor of a democratic relativity.
Harmonically speaking, this album’s core spins by the magnetic give and take of Muthspiel and Mehldau, whose dialogic interactions in “For Django,” “Descendants,” and “One Day My Prince Was Gone” evoke fantasy and reality in equal measure. Mehldau’s lone compositional offering, “Blueshead,” triangulates that relationship with Grenadier’s muscular refereeing, and gives Akinmusire air through which to soar. Indeed, the trumpeter’s voice soars highest in the present milieu, although there are passages, such as “Panorama,” in which the bandleader duets with Harland, and the nostalgia-brimming “Buenos Aires,” which holds the guitar alone, thus reminding us that no organism can function without a neural network to archive its experiences, ready for recall at a moment’s notice, when communication matters above all.