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Bebop Spoken There

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Friday, April 03, 2020

CD Review: Wolfgang Muthspiel - Angular Blues


Wolfgang Muthspiel (guitar); Scott Colley (bass); Brian Blade (drums)
(Review by JC)

When the recent pandemic lock down left me "all dressed up but nowhere to go" I thought I would offer to review a few CDs for Bebop Spoken Here to bring me up to speed with the latest in the jazz world, as well as doing something (hopefully) useful with my time. And judging by the number of CDs I received, it seems that the BSH editor is not expecting this emergency to be over any time soon.


As a starting point I began to flick through the publicity blurbs and inserts to get a feel for what was in the pile of albums but quickly discovered that this was not necessarily a good idea. Unsurprisingly it turns out that everyone is 'distinctive' and is influenced by an A to Zee of artists in their field and, at the same time, they add a 'new and unique' voice/sound. There was also quite a tendency, at least in the selection I have, towards creating the kind of 'concept' albums that were last seen coming out on the LPs of 1970s prog rockers. In this case the musicians/singers are inspired by such things as historical events, the weather, architecture and other people's earlier recordings.

Now these comments are not meant to be a criticism of the musicians and groups as, of course, all artists have an artistic vision that they want to express and those buying the CDs want to know about it. It is more an observation on the effect of reading a number of publicity sheets one after the other.

Anyway, what joy! I came across this CD which was the only one not to have a publicity sheet with it and had a cover which is almost completely black, except for a couple of thin white slashes across it with the title and band members' names in very small print and those magic letters ECM at the bottom. The insert is mostly blank pages with just one photo of the band and what felt by this time like a wonderfully homeopathic minimum of written information.

So nothing to get in the way of the music and what a beautiful album this is. The leader of the trio, Wolfgang Muthspiel, is a new name to me but what a very fine guitarist and composer and, as a fan of both acoustic and electric guitar playing, it is a real treat that he plays both on the album. Seven of the nine pieces are his compositions with the other two being standards, Everything I Love and I'll Remember April. The bass player Scott Colley is another new name to me but that is clearly because I haven't been paying attention as a little research revealed he is an A-lister who has played with everybody and led his own groups. However the fabulous drummer, Brian Blade, I am familiar with, particularly from his work with Wayne Shorter and Joni Mitchell.

Muthspiel plays acoustic guitar on the first three pieces and the opening track Wondering showcases the rhythmic musicality of Colley's bass playing in tandem with Muthspiel's lyrical guitar work. The subliminal delicacy of Blade's drumming in the background is exquisite. The title track Angular Blues starts with guitar and bass again working together but then takes on a more staccato Monkish quality which Muckspiel picks up in jagged but subtle playing. A drum solo by Blade closes off an intriguing piece. The third acoustic track Huttengriffe has a peaceful and quiet hymn-like quality.

The first track featuring Muthspiel on electric guitar is the gently swinging Camino followed by the fast bebop-orientated Ride which the trio clearly enjoy playing. There are two pieces that hint at some classical leanings: one called Kanon in 6/8 where initially the bass follows the guitar's melody line and then moves seamlessly into the three players improvising together. The second one is a guitar-only track Solo Kanon in 5/4 where Muthspiel uses a little electronic help to play the follow-up lines and crafts a very engaging piece of music.

As one would expect with such fine musicians the two standards are played delightfully with the three instruments weaving intuitively together as they have done throughout. Altogether a very finely composed and played recording.
JC

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