CD REVIEW: Wolfgang Muthspiel – Where The River Goes


Wolfgang Muthspiel – Where The River Goes
(ECM 675 1712. Review by Peter Bacon)

This the the same band that made 2016’s Rising Grace, with one change: Eric Harland replaces Brian Blade on drums. With Wolfgang Muthspiel are Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet, Brad Mehldau on piano and Larry Grenadier on double bass. Yep, it’s a pretty heavyweight line-up.

Ironically, given that drum change, it’s Blade’s Fellowship that Muthspiel’s band sometimes reminds me of. There is that dedication to the melodic interweave, that lovely balance of structure and freedom, with the arrangements integral to the music and running right through it but in an unobtrusive way, a bit like invisible stitching mysteriously creating a marvellous flowing and twisting shape. There is also a sense of the open space, the great outdoors, though it’s not as strong as in some of Mehldau’s own music (I’m thinking Highway Rider) or some of Pat Metheny’s music, for example.

The title track opens the album and is a perfect summation of it: the leader starts, pensively, on his own, with that feeling of creating the melody, the chords, the theme… then he settles into a strummed riff; Mehldau adds a line over the top, Grenadier joins and they lead to a drum roll in from Harland and Akinmusire stating more decisively the theme which has already been suggested. As listeners we might have been leaning towards the speakers, intrigued as the group slowly coalesced, but now we can sit back, assured that this is indeed going to be a hugely satisfying hour of music spent with five marvellous companions.

All the music is composed by Muthspiel bar one atmospheric group improv and a knotty, Monk-like piece of be-bop from Mehldau called Blueshead. For Django has a limpid melody, beautifully articulated by piano, trumpet and guitar in weave; Descendents holds that mood but ups the tension a little with some perfectly placed drum drama from Harland; Buenos Aires sounds like it could acquire lyrics and appear on one of Muthspiel’s singer/songwriter albums while also having a Ralph Townerish classical feel; One Day My Prince Was Gone is a free-ish improvisation with Akinmusire and Mehldau exploring the limelight; and Panorama closes the album with Muthspiel and Harland in coversation, the former again in classical mood, the latter enjoying snare and cymbals.

If you don’t know Rising Grace, I’d probably still favour that over this, but it’s a close call. Hey, why not go for the double?

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