Wolfgang Muthspiel, Scott Colley and Brian Blade reach a new creative peak on 'Dance of the Elders'
Wolfgang Muthspiel and his working trio with Scott Colley on bass and Brian Blade on drums reaches a new creative peak on Dance of the Elders. The album is the group's follow-up to the much-lauded Angular Blues, which The Times called a "quietly impressive album" that highlights "Muthspiel's fluidly melodic playing style". Here Wolfgang's successful stride continues, with his unique compositional signature on the one hand and particularly vibrant exchanges with his trio colleagues on the other. The guitarist's own writing and approach to jazz is heavily folk-induced but equally inspired by classical music both aspects are presented clearly throughout the album. Brian's floating percussive injections and Scott's nimble counterpoint on bass complement the guitarist's acoustic and electric playing in fluid interplay over intricate polyrhythms and adventurous harmonic landscapes.
"Whatever the technique or the instrument, Muthspiel's deep love for and expert command of jazz shines through on both the originals and standards ( ), as does his chemistry with Blade and Colley.", Jazztimes wrote in 2021, to which Wolfgang Muthspiel answered: "We have developed an enormous trust in each other".
His musical familiarity with partners Colley and Blade has only increased since Dance of the Elders was recorded after extensive touring throughout Europe, the US and Japan, in February 2022. And the guitarist's opinion in regard to his bandmates hasn't changed: "I'm constantly learning from Brian and Scott. It's always exciting to bring new music to them and see how they approach it, because it's never what I'd expect. The remembrance of their sound while I compose is an inspiration for the music I end up coming up with."
The trio's seamless chemistry and spontaneous sense of creation has rarely been as obvious as on the album's opener "Invocation" a meditative, two-part composition that gracefully sets the mood of the album over ten minutes of restrained but deeply felt three-way conversation. Wolfgang recalls how it was producer Manfred Eicher's decision to place the song at the beginning of the album. Wolfgang: "There's the process of Manfred hearing the music and feeling the place of each piece he tells a compelling story through the sequence, and his choices always surprise me, in the best possible way."
The spontaneous studio improvisation "Prelude to Bach" a shrouded statement of textures ends with a solo guitar rendition of Bach's chorale "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded", which Wolfgang didn't prepare for the session, but pulled out of thin air in the spur of the moment. Its gentle pace and traditional harmonic articulation stands in contrast to the title track's spirited rhythmic twists, folkloric time signatures and uncommon chord voicings. Like "Cantus Bradus", "Dance of the Elders" works as a polyrhythmic playground for Colley and Blade to stretch their mathematical muscles, though at the same time both songs are driven by exhaustive melodic development.
Wolfgang wrote "Cantus Bradus" with Brad Mehldau in mind, who contributed to the guitarist's celebrated quintet recordings Rising Grace (2016) and Where The River Goes (2018). It relies on traits Wolfgang has observed repeatedly in Mehldau's music and which he describes as "a bunch of chromatic lines descending to a certain tonal center. On their way these lines create rather unusual chords and tensions, but they end up in a bluesy center. It's a development I hear a lot in Brad's songs and in his soloing."
Kurt Weil's "Liebeslied" was introduced to Wolfgang by trumpeter and educator Herb Pomeroy, whose student-big band at Berklee College of Music was "the band you wanted to be in", as Wolfgang says. He plays on electric guitar here, spinning fluid bop-lines around Colley and Blade's rhythmic counterpoint. The other composition that wasn't written by Wolfgang here is Joni Mitchell's "Amelia" a ballad the singer-songwriter legend recorded with guitarist Larry Carlton in 1976 and again in 1979, this time with Pat Metheny. Wolfgang, Brian and Scott's interpretation doesn't veer too far from the original and instead takes advantage of what was already there Brian Blade has in the past frequently collaborated with Mitchell and understands her music profoundly.
For "Folk Song" Wolfgang drew inspiration from none other than Keith Jarrett. "I had a vague idea of Keith's music when coming up with this one, especially his vamp improvisations from the Belonging-era, " explains the guitarist. "You can always tell how harmonically inventive someone is when they play around one chord for a long stretch. Everything Keith implies with his upper lines, his middle voices, shows you all the chords he could play but then only teases at. I love that about Keith."
Dance of the Elders was mixed and completed at Studios La Buissonne in March 2023 by Manfred Eicher with Wolfgang Muthspiel and Gιrard de Haro.
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