REVIEW: Wolfgang Muthspiel Group at Ronnie Scott's

L-R: Gwilym Simcock, Scott Colley, Ambrose Akinmusire,
Brian Blade, Wolfgang Muthspiel
Photo credit and © Steven Cropper of www.transientlife.uk
Wolfgang Muthspiel Group
(Ronnie Scott's. 5th March 2017. First night of two. Review by Sebastian Scotney) 

When five talents are gathered together who are each as completely individual and assured as those who were assembled on the stand at Ronnie Scott's last night, there is a temptation to go and re-check the mathematical formula for how many possible pairs there are in the group of five (*). The answer is ten. So, since inspiration can always flow in both directions, there are twenty possible ways in which interplay and interaction can happen. The live experience at relatively close quarters is fascinating because one can see all of those interactions happening in real time, one can witness the expressions of surprise, the glances, the reactions, one can not just hear but also see a musical idea as it goes on its travels.

For a review, it would take too long to do justice to all of that constantly evolving web of possibilities, Pick one: to me, the most constantly energizing and exciting combination on stage last night was drummer Brian Blade and pianist Gwilym Simcock. Each of these two seemed to be constantly looking out and expecting to receive a surprise from the other. I am guessing this tour might be the first opportunity they have had to form part of the same band (?) Anyway, the prospect that they might at some stage want to repeat the experience is an exciting one - and I for one would want to be there to see it.

Blade has known Muthspiel for a long time. Their improbably titled (and rather fine) album Air, Love and Vitamins was released as long ago as 2004, and Blade is familiar and comfortable with the quiet vibe and sometimes very slow tempi that come naturally to Muthspiel. Blade colours and narrates these stories with ever-fresh artistry. And with an ideal rhythm partner in Scott Colley, the ways they found to reinforce the pulse, the landings, were illuminating. And once a more urgent tempo took over (it was with  a sense of relief  - one deathly slow number did get applauded in a way that seemed to signify the audience's  will for it to end ASAP) they were absolutely in their element. The whole- band intensity build in the first half closer Super Ronnie, dedicated to the sound man on this tour, was totally involving and compelling, as was the second half closer, a tune of Gwilym Simcock's called Antics, with all players flawlessly negotiating a complex breakneck-speed written-out ending.

Wolfgang Muthspiel has made a second ECM album Rising Grace, and most of last night's repertoire came from that album. Mike Collins in his CD review (link below) describes his fascination with the "patchwork of moods" and describes the album as "delightful, beautiful", but I found the live experience (with Simcock and Colley replacing Brad Mehldau and Larry Grenadier respectively), just seemed to go deeper, it was at a different level of daring, communicative involvement and pro-activeness. Ambrose Akinmusire showed what an astonishingly wide range of expression he has, and Scott Colley, a complete virtuoso with a George Duvivier-like sense of time and how to land was impeccable both as soloist and as solid core of the group.

There's another night at Ronnie's tonight. Go.

LINK: Interview with Wolfgang Muthspiel from 2014
CD Review of Rising Grace

(*) Σ = (n x n-1)/2

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