Wolfgang Muthspiel: Rising Grace (ECM 2515)

Rising Grace

Wolfgang Muthspiel
Rising Grace

Wolfgang Muthspiel guitar
Ambrose Akinmusire trumpet
Brad Mehldau piano
Larry Grenadier double bass
Brian Blade drums
Recorded January 2016, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineers: Gérard de Haro and Nicolas Baillard
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: October 28, 2016

Nearly three years after making his ECM leader debut with Driftwood, Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel returns to the studio, expanding that trio into a quintet. Carrying over bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Brian Blade, he adds the potent variables of pianist Brad Mehldau and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. The result is exponential.

Muthspiel is that rare artist who makes arpeggios sound like melodic leads rather than backbones. Cases in point are the title track and “Triad Song.” In both, the band attracts character traits that are to define the album’s master narrative. Muthspiel and Grenadier move in lockstep, while Akinmusire keens, Mehldau sings, and Blade shines like gold in the morning sun. Their flowing sound, studded with occasional peaks, catches the glow of a humbly creative lighthouse.

As composer, Muthspiel focuses on the little things, and in so doing makes them feel all-encompassing. Such highlights include “Intensive Care” for Muthspiel’s nylon-stringed questions and Mehldau’s lyrical answers, “Supernonny” for Akinmusire’s robust exposition, and “Boogaloo” for its riskier details.

The set is fleshed out by dedicatory masterstrokes. “Father And Sun” examines a relationship that is earthly, spiritual, and uncontainable. Its atmospheric integrity, domestically inclined, finds heartfelt analogue in “Den Wheeler, Den Kenny.” This loving tribute to trumpeter Kenny Wheeler especially references 1976’s Gnu High, a longtime inspiration for Muthspiel. Here, the soaring of that classic album is met with an elegiac crawl across a barren landscape. “Wolfgang’s Waltz,” a tune written by Mehldau specifically for this album, finds its own father soloing with a storyteller’s grace between the binding of an adhesive groove. All of which makes Rising Grace a gracious (indeed) experience filled with love, hope, and extended kinship.

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