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WOLFGANG MUTHSPIEL – WHERE THE RIVER GOES / ECM 2610 

Wolfgang Muthspiel: guitar; Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet; Brad Mehldau: piano; Larry Grenadier: double bass; Eric Harland: drums

Where The River Goes carries the story forward from Rising Grace, Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel’s widely acclaimed 2016 recording, returning his cast of musicians to the same studio in southern France, for more of the intuitive magic and deep listening that characterised the earlier album. “The disc’s ambience,” said Downbeat of Rising Grace, “is meditative yet optimistic and joyful. Percolating grooves propel the flow; elemental melodies and classical harmonies provide signposts.”

On Where The River Goes, Wolfgang Muthspiel, Brad Mehldau, Ambrose Akinmusire and Larry Grenadier, now joined by drummer Eric Harland, again take a creative approach to the bandleader’s compositions, constantly stretching the forms, reharmonizing melodies, embellishing heads, delving into the texture of the pieces. And, though the quintet has, inevitably, been praised as an ‘all-star ensemble’, its energies are very democratically pooled. Solos in the conventional sense are rationed here – although the outgoing “Blueshead”, a Mehldau composition, has energetic features for all five members of the band – but there is a great deal of inspired conversation among the participants, and a shared sense of freedom.

One early instance is the dialogue subtly developed by Muthspiel and Mehldau in the middle of “For Django”, circling each other as they make new music. The opening minutes of “One Day My Prince Was Gone” are similarly intriguing, with multiple lines interweaving in extended free counterpoint before coalescing in Muthspiel’s theme. On “Panorama”, Muthspiel’s arpeggios are beautifully embroidered by Harland’s purring snare drum. Throughout the album Ambrose Akinmusire, juxtaposing pure clear trumpet tone with his vocabulary of painterly smears of sound, continually finds new angles to the material. Muthspiel praises the trumpeter’s fearlessness and has hailed him as “a great new force in the music.”

The titular river of the album flows towards and away from the spontaneously created piece “Clearing”, situated at the centre of the programme and credited to all five players. For Muthspiel and cohorts playing “free” means finding and capturing form in the moment.

On “Buenos Aires”, Muthspiel is heard alone, playing with an elegance that underlines the The New Yorker’s description of him as “a shining light” among contemporary jazz guitarists.

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Born in 1965 in Judenberg, Austria Wolfgang Muthspiel studied classical violin before turning his attention to the guitar at age 15. Deep interest in jazz and improvisation led him to the US and studies with Mick Goodrick at the New England Conservatory. By the 1990s, Muthspiel was based in New York, playing with many of the city’s most creative players and establishing long-lasting musical friendships. He made his first ECM appearance on the 2012 recording Travel Guide as a member of a cooperative trio with fellow guitarists Ralph Towner and Slava Grigoryan (“Breathtakingly beautiful...a brilliant six-string summit meeting” – Downbeat). This was followed by Driftwood in 2013 with Larry Grenadier and Brian Blade. The association between Muthspiel and Grenadier goes back three decades to the guitarist’s membership of Gary Burton’s group.

Larry Grenadier and Eric Harland have also played together in many contexts including, recently, a trio with Hungarian cimbalom master Miklós Lukács. Shared work at ECM includes Chris Potter’s The Sirens project. Both have also recorded with Charles Lloyd, and Eric Harland continues to perform with Lloyd’s ensembles. Larry Grenadier has furthermore appeared on ECM with the Fly trio with Mark Turner and Jeff Ballard, and with Enrico Rava. A solo album, The Gleaners, is in preparation for early 2019 release.

Brad Mehldau’s previous ECM appearances include, in addition to Rising Grace, two albums with Charles Lloyd, plus Live At Birdland with Lee Konitz, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian.

Where The River Goes was recorded at Studios La Buissonne in Pernes-les-Fontaines in February 2018 and produced by Manfred Eicher.

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Wolfgang Muthspiel will be playing compositions from Rising Grace and Where The River Goes in the course of his autumn tour on which his quintet partners will be Mathieu Michel on trumpet, Colin Vallon on piano, Larry Grenadier on double bass, and Jeff Ballard on drums. The tour includes concerts in Estonia, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands and Switzerland. For details: www.wolfgangmuthspiel.com 

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