Wolfgang Muthspiel | Dance of the Elders Review
Complexity and Coherence: Wolfgang Muthspiel’s Dance of the Elders
by Illiam Sebitz
In a musical landscape often dictated by genre-bending fusion and high-octane virtuosity, Wolfgang Muthspiel’s latest album, Dance of the Elders, offers a refreshing blend of complexity and coherence. The Austrian guitarist, long revered for his intricate compositional techniques and nuanced guitar work, reunites with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade in a follow-up to their lauded previous release, Angular Blues. Together, they have crafted an opus that defies modern jazz’s limitations and encapsulates folk, classical, and world music elements.
Muthspiel is a jazz guitarist with an expansive musical palette. He is flanked by Colley, a bassist whose reputation for innovative playing precedes him, and Blade, a drummer known for his textural approach and dynamic range. Together, the trio presents a unique blend of skills, bound by a chemistry honed through years of collaboration and extensive touring. Their partnership shows what’s possible when musicians of this caliber come together, creating a canvas that allows each artist to paint with their unique palette of sounds.
Dance of the Elders arrives as a significant statement in Muthspiel’s discography. Building upon the successes of previous works, it broadens the ensemble’s explorations into new musical territories. At its core, the album seeks to engage listeners in a journey—one that incorporates a wide array of influences while offering a cohesive narrative that only seasoned musicians could present. This creative vision comes to life in a meticulous track-by-track narrative that is a singular accomplishment in today’s jazz landscape.
“Invocation” is a 10-minute opener that embodies the album’s spirit perfectly. The track has two distinct parts: an ethereal, almost meditative first half that evolves into a more structured harmonic sequence. Muthspiel notes, “The endless loop is like a vast landscape in which our gestures take place. everything is rubato, musical sentence after sentence.” His guitar adds to the atmosphere, allowing for a dialogue between Scott Colley’s bass and Brian Blade’s drums. It’s a layered, complex piece that is a microcosm of the album’s journey.
“Prelude to Bach” is an inspired rendition of Bach’s chorale “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” and the track emerges from a space of spontaneous improvisation. Muthspiel’s textured chords form the foundation, while Colley’s bowed bass introduces an exotic layer to the sound. Blade makes his entry in a way that transforms the atmosphere entirely. Muthspiel then brings the piece to a grounding cadence, evoking the rich musical traditions from which the trio draws inspiration. As the trio’s musical conversation reaches its peak, Muthspiel’s masterful interpretation of the melody comes to the forefront. His intricate chordal structures not only capture but also expand upon Bach’s original four-part choral writing.
“Dance of the Elders,” the title track, is a spirited journey through shifting time signatures and intricate rhythms. Wolfgang captures a global essence, blending jazz elements with a folk-inspired core. The “clapping loop” that underpins Blade’s drum solo adds a communal, almost celebratory feel to the music, making it a polyrhythmic playground for the trio.
“Liebeslied,” a cover from Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s Three Penny Opera, is a jazz waltz with a twist. Muthspiel’s electric guitar lends an expressive quality, highlighted by his thoughtful use of trills and bends. It’s a piece where the trio fully explores the harmonic richness without rushing through ideas.
In “Folksong,” the trio gracefully navigates a folk-like melody laid over a shifting harmonic landscape. Colley’s counterpoint bassline perfectly complements Muthspiel’s harmonic shifts, while Blade’s drumming serves as the connective tissue, weaving each musician’s contributions into a coherent sonic tapestry. Moving from this, the trio ventures into the intricate world of “Cantus Bradus,” a piece inspired by the music of pianist Brad Mehldau. The track is a study in harmonic and rhythmic complexity, showcased in Muthspiel’s guitar work and the trio’s dynamic interactions. Colley and Blade engage in a subtle harmonic dialogue with Muthspiel, each adding layers of nuance to the composition.
“Amelia” is the trio performing a Joni Mitchell song and serves as the album’s closer and is a heartfelt nod to a musical legend. Blade, who has frequently collaborated with Mitchell, brings an innate understanding of her music. Muthspiel’s guitar work and Colley’s bass support Blade’s nuanced drumming, resulting in a rendition that respects the original while adding their unique touch.
Dance of the Elders is a collection of masterfully performed tracks that flow like a voyage into the heart of what makes music transcendent. Muthspiel, Colley, and Blade have once again affirmed their standing as musicians who can walk the tightrope between complexity and accessibility. Their efforts have resulted in an album that is as a manifesto for the current state of creative jazz—a genre that, in their capable hands, shows itself to be endlessly pliable and universally resonant.
Dance of the Elders
Release Date: September 15, 2023
Label: ECM Records
About the author
Born and raised in a picturesque European village, my fondness for music began during my formative years, when the charismatic tones of the recorder first filled the halls of my primary school. This early fascination escalated into my lifelong pursuit of embracing the melodious charm of the flute; I have even spent time refining my skills at a music conservatoire. As a seasoned music connoisseur, I find myself captivated by the multifaceted world of music. I enjoy writing music reviews to better enable me to explore genres as diverse as world, rock, jazz, classical, folk, and film music, each offering a unique auditory journey that enriches my life and intellect.
In my spare moments, you'll likely find me meticulously crafting my latest woodworking project, sharpening my skills with flute etudes, or inventing tales of fantasy through the art of creative writing. My eclectic interests and expertise harmonize to create a symphony of passion and curiosity that resonates within every aspect of my life as a music enthusiast.