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Wolfgang Muthspiel: Rising Grace

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Wolfgang Muthspiel is an accomplished Austrian guitarist, not widely known. His sidemen here are among the most renowned players in jazz on their respective instruments: pianist Brad Mehldau, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Brian Blade. The challenge for Muthspiel as a leader is to leverage the strengths of these major musicians while integrating their distinctive voices into his own aesthetic. He succeeds.

On his two previous ECM recordings, Travel Guide (2013) and Driftwood (2014), Muthspiel revealed a gift for casting spells. Rising Grace is also a single enveloping sonic aura, but with more moving parts. What is immediately striking about this new band is its selflessness and its ability to create collectively. “Intensive Care,” the centerpiece of the album, opens with lingering acoustic guitar notes, barely glowing, like dawn. Muthspiel, unhurried, eventually arrives at a two-note motif like a whispered, irresistible summons. It will be carried forward for 10 minutes. Grenadier picks it up, then Akinmusire. Players flow into and out of one another, on a tide of emotion. A band with world-class solo firepower has made an album without solos. Instead, brilliant individual moments continuously emerge but never entirely separate themselves from the ensemble and its larger purposes.

The eulogy “Den Wheeler, Den Kenny” starts as a thread of melody. Akinmusire’s body of work until now has contained trumpet expressionism, often explosive. But he is a serious student of jazz trumpet history, and here he channels the graceful impressionism of the late Kenny Wheeler, in long calls of quiet passion. Throughout Rising Grace Akinmusire plays with a previously unspoken lyricism. The Wheeler tribute also contains Mehldau’s deepest realization on the album. Everything suddenly stops and his finely drawn piano forms, suspended in time, are like the musical equivalent of tears, especially when they are released to spill free.

Originally Published