Wolfgang Muthspiel - solo
The AGE, Australia 7/12/2004
Bennetts Lane Jazz Lab, July 6.
Some years ago, Wolfgang Muthspiel recorded an album inspired by the paintings of American artist Cy Twombly. I haven't heard the album, but I imagine that Muthspiel's music moulds itself beautifully to Twombly's art.
Muthspiel - a much-admired Austrian guitarist who made his Australian debut at Bennetts Lane last week - has a remarkable ability to underscore the beauty of his source material while presenting it in a way that makes you see it in a new light.
In fact, he is rather like an artist himself, often stretching fresh canvases over existing frameworks to blur the fresh and the familiar in utterly convincing ways. On Wednesday night, he used two classic Beatles tunes - Something and All My Loving - to construct a series of inventive stories, where the last phrase of each "chapter" became the first line of the next.
In All My Loving, the melody was artfully camouflaged within swift, single-note runs, gleaming chord sequences and overlapping, pedal-operated loops that wove a deftly syncopated beat.
Something hugged the contours of the original tune more closely, until Muthspiel began looping melodic and harmonic fragments and cascading over them as though following a fast-flowing body of water. Still on semi-acoustic guitar, he subtly rubbed and bent the strings to produce a sitar-like effect, then switched to electric guitar and triggered a series of undulating, reverberant waves.
Muthspiel's original compositions also tended to travel through more than one acoustic landscape. One yet-to-be-named piece featured delicate, ringing harmonics; an exploratory, reverb-filled call-and-response pattern; and a brisk melodic refrain propelled by wonderfully light flurries of notes.
Muthspiel use his pedals and effects to embellish rather than prop up his solo performance. The loops were always constructed in real time, and layered with such precision that it often took several bars for the replication to register. Far from compensating for a lack of invention, the pedals simply allowed Muthspiel's imagination more scope, as he created dazzlingly effective contrapuntal melodies or percussive, multi-textured grooves.
But the guitarist was just as mesmerising in a pedal-free setting, using his plectrum, fingers, and body movement to modulate the tone of his instrument. He could produce phrases that were terse or lush, serene or spiky; mimic the rubbery swoops of an African talking drum, or conjure up an agile bassline to converse with a simultaneously sketched melody.
And on Air, Love and Vitamins, it was the unadorned warmth and beauty of Muthspiel's approach - coupled with his open-hearted willingness to share with the audience - that gave the piece its emotional resonance and made it one of the highlights of the evening.