It’s the Austrian jazz guitarist’s debut as a leader on ECM and what an auspicious beginning. Balancing careful understatement with intense and involved group interplay, Driftwood packs a considerable punch in the way atmosphere is built and improvisational direction unfolds. Muthspiel has played with both US bassist Larry Grenadier (Brad Mehldau trio, Fly trio) and drummer Brian Blade (Wayne Shorter Quartet, Fellowship) in separate playing situations including Drumfree and Friendly Travelers extensively over the years and for the three to come together makes perfect sense. Recorded in Oslo at the Rainbow studio in May last year, the session beautifully engineered by Jan Erik Kongshaug, the sound is simply stunning, Muthspiel combines two aspects of his playing personality here the acoustic classical guitar side (beautifully gathered on the engrossing ‘Cambiata’) and electric, the little effects like a garnish, on an album mostly made up of his own compositions although the title track, at producer Manfred Eicher’s suggestion, is a piece of free improvisation.
‘Lichtzelle’ was inspired by Olivier Messiaen, Muthspiel having immersed himself in the composer’s music over the years, and Muthspiel’s awareness of jazz history encompasses a tribute to fellow Austrian Joe Zawinul on the track ‘Joseph’, and to Michael Brecker on the final number, ‘Bossa For Michael Brecker’. Altogether it’s a very open, modern, and of-the-now album Blade stripping away the beat and relying on fundamental pulse for much of the drama of the tunes while Grenadier is so adept at allowing the sound to ring out clearly with the immediacy the music needs, the tender arco solo at the beginning of ‘Highline’ one of the many moments of sheer pleasure.
Released on Monday 19 May
Read an interview with Wolfgang Muthspiel here