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CD Review: Muthspiel, Scherrer, Grenadier – Drumfree

Muthspiel/Scherrer/Grenadier – Drumfree (Material MRE033, CD Review by Rod Fogg)

Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel presents his latest CD, on which- you guessed it – there are no drums.

Drumfree are a guitar/bass/saxophone three-piece and the music is all the more spacious for it. The guitar is mostly of the nylon string “classical” variety, giving the music a European, chamber-music like quality which seems to imply a fusion of elements of 20th century classical music with the great tradition of American jazz. On the few tracks which use electric guitar the sound is contemporary but clean, using fewer effects than jazz guitarists like Metheny or Scofield while still managing to sound modern and edgy.

The album is beautifully recorded, and demonstrates that these three musicians are clearly at the top of their game. Larry Grenadier is best known for his playing in the Brad Mehldau trio, while Swiss saxophonist Andy Scherrer adds a beautiful lyrical qualities to the music. Muthspiel is steeped in both jazz and classical music, studying violin as a child and then switching to guitar at age 15. As a youth he won various national competitions for classical music and the International Guitar Competition in Mettmann, Germany. This mixture of influences explains one of the standout features of this album, which is the quality of the composing.

The pieces combine strong song-like melodies with fascinating contemporary harmonic twists and turns. “Ibrahim” has a strong slow groove with delightful bluesy touches, perhaps influenced by South Africa pianist Abdullah Ibrahim; “Tribal Games” takes a bossa nova rhythm and adds a skittering to and fro type of melody with three-way interplay between the band in an impressive display that combines compositional technique with approachability. “Double Blues” has to be one of the most unusual “blues” tunes you will ever hear; complex and intriguing it nevertheless manages to stay close to the soul of jazz – particularly when the solos start it turns out that Muthspiel can swing like the best of them. This album sounds great, is brilliantly played and features interesting and original compositions many of which demonstrate a highly innovative approach to jazz composition.

After three weeks of listening I feel I’m still taking it all in – which can only be a good thing. Highly recommended.

UK release date for Drumfree is April 4, 2011. Drumfree – with Wolfgang Muthspiel, Scott Colley and Mark Turner will be touring in Europe in May.

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