There’s a particular clarity made possible by the trio format, which guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel, bassist Scott Colley, and drummer Brian Blade take full advantage of on Angular Blues, Muthspiel’s fourth album as bandleader for the storied ECM label. While 2016’s Rising Grace and 2018’s Where The River Goes were excellent examples of the Austrian guitarist in a quartet setting—stretched out, but never lacking the patient grace that makes him a natural fit for Manfred Eicher’s “the most beautiful sound next to silence” aesthetic—this new one returns to the stripped-down instrumentation of his ECM debut Driftwood. The move into a more spacious arrangement makes for magnificent listening. Muthspiel leads the band through a variety of modes, but the shifting never suggests restlessness, everything, from the gently driving bop of “Ride” to the hymnal swell of “Hüttengriffe,” from the standard “I Remember April” to the lush original “Camino,” feels of a piece. Best of all is the title track, which offers a spotlight of each player’s distinct voice. Muthspiel’s tricky chording gives way to a Colley showcase, spotlighting his thick and soulful approach; when Blade takes commend, he makes yet another compelling case for his status as one of the most lyrical drummers in jazz (his 1998 album as leader of the Brian Blade Fellowship, recently reissued on vinyl, bolsters this claim). While Angular Blues functions primarily as an ensemble showcase, Muthspiel does contribute one solo performance, assisted by subtle electronic touches, on “Solo Kanon in 5/4.” On his own or with his trusted collaborators behind him, Muthspiel’s intimate and expressive playing remains playful, graceful, and engaging. words/j woodbury
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