Wolfgang Muthspiel, Scott Colley, Brian Blade – Angular Blues
(ECM 0814506. Review by John Arnett)
This album was recorded in Japan in one day in August 2018, shortly after the trio’s six concerts at the Cotton Club in Tokyo. It is Wolfgang Muthspiel’s fourth ECM album as leader, with longtime collaborator Brian Blade on drums and featuring, for the first time, Scott Colley on double bass. Anyone familiar with the work of the Muthspiel/Blade guitar and drums duo Friendly Travelers will know that the interplay and understanding between these two is something to behold, and it is a quality very much in evidence here. Seven out of the nine tracks are original Muthspiel compositions, two are sumptuous interpretations of standards ( “Everything I love” and “I’ll Remember April”) and one is a solo guitar piece.
The first three tracks feature acoustic guitar, and the first of these, “Wondering”, is a nicely atmospheric and contemplative piece, befitting the title, and showcasing the bass playing of Scott Colley. The melody is introduced on the double bass, over guitar chords and arpeggios, and with a feeling of space but also propulsion. Muthspiel’s guitar solo here (and throughout, actually) has a distinctive knitting together of single notes and melodic lines with interspersed chords, before a return to the theme with renewed drama and fire. Title track “Angular blues” is a different kind of tune altogether – skittery, frenetic and hard to place in terms of rhythm and tonality, but with striking precision and rapport between all three players. Angular it certainly is.
“Hütengriffe” is the first of two delightful pieces in a more restful, ballad-like vein. It has a stately, hymn-like, unhurried quality, with brushes only, huge space and no unnecessary embellishments – no solos in fact. “Comino” brings in the electric guitar for the first time, with its warm timbre and greater sustain, but still with a great deal of space and restraint. The haunting melody edges into a guitar solo, at first chordal and then single note, which is really compelling and full of melodic invention, followed by a bass solo which picks up the baton in fine and lyrical style.
“Ride” is a decided contrast, a busy, higher tempo be-bop style workout with a bubbly and exciting rapid fire guitar solo, leading seamlessly into equally energetic and succinct bass and drum solo spots. Nothing is overdone or wears out its welcome. Of the two standards, “Everything I love” is particularly fine, a tasteful and swinging rendition with some beautifully judged ensemble playing and bluesy guitar inflections that lend a different mood again.
Finally, there are two tracks entitled “Kanon” – the first a trio piece in 6/8, and the second for solo guitar in 5/4. The canon referred to here, of duplicated melodic lines, is produced in both pieces by electronic echo effects. It is a device that, as well as being striking in its own right, in the trio piece provides a platform for some really dynamic interplay between the three musicians, with each voice being distinct and present whilst at the same time creating a powerful whole. In the solo piece the effect is used to create counterpoint as well as echoing, with very pleasing results, somehow reminiscent of a waterfall. All in all this is a very enjoyable and diverse album, distinguished by some brilliant and versatile playing.