CD REVIEW: Wolfgang Muthspiel, Larry Grenadier, Brian Blade - Driftwood

Wolfgang Muthspiel, Larry Grenadier, Brian Blade - Driftwood 
(ECM2349. CD review by Jon Turney)

The softly chiming guitar chords and gentle arpeggios that open the first cut, Joseph, set a mood for this attractive trio session. Wolfgang Muthspiel has worked and recorded before with both bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Brian Blade, and is at ease in their company. This, the Berklee-schooled Austrian's first session as a leader for ECM, is also easeful, if not quite easy listening.

Uptown is a simple acoustic riff that shows the leader at his most Methenyesque - even repeating a lick from Bright Size Life. Lichtstelle has more drifting chords over lightly struck cymbals. Even the closer, Bossa for Michael Brecker, which might promise something with a bit more spring in its step, is more of a musing on the idea of a Bossa nova than an invitation to dance.

Driftwood is a gentle free improvisation, which establishes a mood and then departs fairly uneventfully, and a fitting title for the set. Drift it does at times, in that quintessentially ECM way. I count the label's stereotype unfair, given the edgy material they have often promoted, but it would be hard to argue that this release doesn't fit it exactly. It sounds like a session they could have released any time in the last forty years - indeed the 8 tracks averaging five minutes apiece would fit neatly on an LP. Perhaps the "ECM sound" has become its own self-fulfilling prophecy. Or, as Muthspiel puts it, "I was thinking about Manfred Eicher's sound aesthetic while writing for the album".

That does produce some lovely moments, though. Cambiata has a fine Spanish-tinged melody. Highline begins with electric guitar and arco bass - Grenadier has a great sound here reminiscent of Miroslav Vitous - then moves into an expansive guitar/drum duet over the simplest possible bass figure. Blade is unfailingly sympathetic throughout, and his attention to detail a marvel. Everything oozes quality, with the recording of the bass in particular coming across wonderfully.

So yes, this is jazz that wipes its feet on the way in the door and says please and thank you, but there is plenty to reward close listening once it gets your attention.

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