real book stories
The Guardian, 1/16/2003
Guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel announces that the next number doesn't yet have a title. "What about Vortex," yells someone from the audience. "Wait until you hear it," says Muthspiel, before launching into the best number of the evening. Played by Muthspiel's supergroup of Marc Johnson (double bass) and Brian Blade (drums), it is radical, heavy, irresistibly engulfing, like the Vortex itself. This is an outstanding gig, played to a sold-out audience.
You have to listen hard. Johnson's dark and dirty basslines underpin an intense pulse that almost becomes a groove. Except that Blade is almost beyond grooves, in a state of enlightenment where every shaded sound on his finely tuned kit means something. In an acoustic venue you hear all the nuances you might miss in a big hall, and the hushed crowd hangs on every note of the trio's cerebral but affecting chamber jazz.
Clarity of sound is part of what makes Muthspiel so compelling, on standards such as All the Things You Are, and originals such as Up and Tourists. Although the group can make plenty of noise, there are few wasted notes. Muthspiel plays electric guitar like a classical guitarist, with the fastidiousness of Jim Hall and a fractured swing reminiscent of John McLaughlin jamming with Tony Oxley.
Blade's polyrhythmic invention occasionally resembles Oxley's. Blade's performance is so fascinating that a die-hard fan might enjoy the set as a long drum solo, with guitar and double-bass accompaniment.
Johnson is less showy, but always does the right thing, whether airy bowed melodies, a fast hard- swinging walk or resonant, funky solos. Muthspiel has to work hard to keep up with his colleagues, and occasionally comes unstuck. But he always plays the tunes beautifully. Panis Angelicus, a gem by Bjork/Joni Mitchell arranger Vince Mendoza, maintains a single mood throughout, to wonderful effect. JJ Johnson's Lament is warm and inventive. And Muthspiel compositions such as One More for Igor (for Stravinsky) are gutsy, risky and thoroughly vortical.
John L Walters