Ralph Towner, Wolfgang Muthspiel, Slava Grigoryan – Travel Guide (2013) [Qobuz 24-88.2]

Ralph Towner, Wolfgang Muthspiel, Slava Grigoryan – Travel Guide (2013)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/88,2 kHz | Time – 00:50:32 minutes | 601 MB | Genre: Jazz
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download – Source: Q0buz | @ ECM Records GmbH

An international summit meeting, “Travel Guide” features US guitarist Ralph Towner, Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel, and Kazakhstan-born and Australia-raised guitarist Slava Grigoryan. The three musicians first came together in 2005, initially for concerts in Australia, and have since toured widely. A 2009 recording on Muthspiel’s Material Records label documented the group’s early progress. Ralph Towner subsequently brought the project to ECM and the trio recorded this album in Lugano in August 2012, with Manfred Eicher as producer. Towner has been a key ECM recording artist for more than 40 years, while Muthspiel and Grigoryan make label debuts here. Grigoryan is well known as the preeminent Australian classical guitarist of his generation, and Muthspiel’s been an important figure on the transatlantic jazz scene for two decades, with his own bands and as a contributor to groups of Gary Burton, Paul Motian and many others. What all three guitarists share is a strong feeling for structure, a sense for lyrical improvisation and a feeling for space, harnessing instrumental technique to very graceful musical ends. Repertoire features five compositions by Towner, and five by Muthspiel.

Since they first made festival appearances together in 2005 and recorded From a Dream in 2009, the guitar trio of American Ralph Towner, Austrian Wolfgang Muthspiel, and Kazhak Slava Grigoryan, has shown a remarkable sense of discipline, subtlety, and balance. Travel Guide is the occasional group’s debut for ECM. Its ten tunes were written by either Muthspiel or Towner. The tonal qualities on all of these tracks are beautifully nuanced: Muthspiel plays electric guitar, Towner classical and 12-string, and Grigoryan classical and baritone guitars. These compositions weren’t written for these players to showcase their solo chops, but rather as songs with limited but impeccable improvisation. Muthspiel uses wordless vocals to expand the group’s tonal reach on “Amarone Trio.” His “The Henrysons” begins with a repetitive vamp by Towner; it’s underscored by Grigoryan even as it lengthens and is finally illustrated in full flower by Muthspiel. Its melody is seemingly fragmentary, but it gradually becomes labyrinthine with a gorgeous set of harmonies put on display. On the title track, the playing gets intricate; Muthspiel and Towner twin the head, articulating its changes quickly and seamlessly as Grigoryan adds color and layers of texture. There is a lot going on, but it never feels overly busy. On “Windsong,” Towner elegantly employs his 12-string as Muthspiel comps and Grigoryan offers a contrapuntal voice before he solos. Both flamenco and jazz illustrate “Nico and Mithra,” where complex counterpoint in the head gives way to Towner’s solo. Closer “Museum of Light” is the most speculative piece here, but it never forsakes lyric harmony even when it travels further afield into more speculative terrain. Travel Guide is an understated, uncluttered gem of virtuosity and composition. The unselfish sense of deference between these players reveals not only their comfort with one another, but the collective confidence of a uniquely voiced, developing group. –AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek

Tracklist:
1. The Henrysons 07:04
2. Father Time 04:38
3. Windsong 06:43
4. Duende 04:29
5. Amarone Trio 05:42
6. Travel Guide 06:35
7. Die blaue Stunde 05:20
8. Nico und Mithra 03:45
9. Tarry 01:03
10. Museum of Light 05:17

Personnel:
Ralph Towner: classical and 12-string guitars
Wolfgang Muthspiel: electric guitar, voice
Slava Grigoryan: classical and baritone guitars

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