Album Remarks & Appraisals:
For his sophomore ECM release, Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel has convened a very special quintet, adding jazz luminary Brad Mehldau on piano and the young star trumpeter, Ambrose Akinmusire, to the subtly virtuosic Grenadier/Blade rhythm section from his label debut. Muthspiel moves between guitars - his playing by turns and enchanting, and the lyrical flights and probing improvisations from the star cast run through his rich set of compositions like golden threads.
Personnel: Wolfgang Muthspiel (guitar); Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet); Brad Mehldau (piano); Larry Grenadier (double bass); Brian Blade (drums).
Liner Note Author: Laura Pleifer.
Recording information: Pernes-Les-Fontaines (01/2016); Studios La Buissonne (01/2016).
Austrian guitarist and composer Wolfgang Muthspiel's history with ECM dates to 2013's Travel Guide with the MGT collective that featured himself, Slava Grigoryan, and Ralph Towner. Driftwood, his wonderful 2014 leader debut was also a trio, a proper guitar/bass/drums setting with Larry Grenadier and Brian Blade. Rising Grace expands that lineup to a quintet to include pianist Brad Mehldau and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. This larger group recorded all in one room and the proceedings reflect a relaxed, easy openness and communicative intimacy. Check the front line exchange on the title track. While the pianist and trumpeter share the melody for a time, they develop a three-way exchange with Muthspiel via solo spaces that erect expansive yet lyric sonorities. "Triad Song" showcases brilliant muted cymbal and snare work from Blade as Grenadier propels a near-swinging groove for the rest to build on. Muthspiel -- on electric this time -- adds a fleet solo that simultaneously recalls Pat Metheny and Jim Hall before Akinmusire folds the gorgeous melody back inside then embarks on his own smoky solo. The proceedings take an exotic turn with "Father and Sun" as jazz harmony entwines with Muthspiel's take on Andalusian folk themes. The only tune not written by the guitarist is Mehldau's "Wolfgang's Waltz." Its swing quotient is high, yet it contains slippery rhythms that Grenadier stretches even further while the pianist's knotty, intricate arpeggios frame the harmony. Muthspiel's fills and solo are clever and hot; they push at the consonance a bit but never forsake groove. "Superonny" delivers exploratory post-bop with fine playing from Grenadier, who holds the center together while Blade finds new rhythmic ideas to investigate inside and outside the time signature. Mehldau gets in a few classical runs and expanded harmonic chord voicings as Akinmusire articulates a mutant blues in his break. The album's most daring piece is "Den Wheeler, Den Kenny," a tribute to the late Kenny Wheeler. It's a high-wire balancing act between emotional poignancy and scopic musical adventure that reveals the multi-dimensionality at this ensemble's core. Rising Grace's easy pace and close feel underscore the confidence these players have in one another. Muthspiel doesn't even try to showcase his considerable abilities as a guitarist, nor does he need to. His ability to guide this band of all-stars through fine compositions portrays his strengths as a leader. His canny awareness of the depth his collaborators bring, individually and collectively, to these tunes is worth celebrating. This album gives up its secrets slowly, but its gentleness is a disguise for the quick, deep, and even dazzling musicianship on display. ~ Thom Jurek
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