Wolfgang Muthspiel ‘Rising Grace’ 2LP/CD (ECM) 4/5

Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel has, until recently, enjoyed a relatively low profile, with a career that stretches all the way back to 1990 when his debut album, ‘The promise’, was produced by Gary Burton. The guitarist went one step further in 2000 when founding his own label, Material records.
A first ECM recording beckoned for Muthspiel in 2013 in, ‘Travel Guide’, with a trio outing as part of MGT. However, his leader debut for the label, ‘Driftwood’, dates from 2014 and another trio, this time bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Brian Blade, both of whom are featured for this new recording. The main difference with the new album is that, in addition to the existing trio, pianist Brad Mehldau and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire are on board and it is this larger ensemble that makes the music all the more worthwhile.

One of the most lyrical pieces is the Mehldau composition, ‘Wolfgang’s Waltz’, with trumpeter Akinmusire in scintillating form and a definite nod towards the Spanish tinge with a flamenco feel in parts. Another ambitious number is a tribute to the late Kenny Wheeler, ‘Den Wheeler’, and this has something of the feel of Wheeler’s own ECM recordings from the mid-1970s, ‘Gnu High’, immediately springing to mind. Grenadier takes a lengthy solo on, ‘Father and son’, where Mehldau comes to the fore as an accompanist, and this recalls his work with Charles Lloyd for ECM.

This is, in general. less of an album to showcase the guitarist’s virtuosity, be that on acoustic or electric guitar, and more of a recording to admire the musicality of the band, the compositions and arrangements. Great subtlety and an understated performance all around.

Tim Stenhouse