Q&A: Wolfgang Muthspiel
For those who know the work of Wolfgang Muthspiel, he continues to top himself with each recording as is the case on his latest album Where The River Goes. For those who are not familiar with Wolfgang, today is your lucky day to be introduced to a truly exciting guitarist and voice in jazz. Wolfgang has been active since in the mid 1980s and came into his own in 1990s playing along side Paul Motian, Gary Burton, Patricia Barber, Gary Peacock and others. Around that same time he started recording on his own leading groups with Tom Harrell, Larry Grenadier, Marc Johnson, Brian Blade, Mick Goodrick, Ralph Towner and Brad Mehldau. In addition to his stellar guitar playing and composing, Wolfgang is also a fine singer – something he came to later in his career. Whatever the musical setting Wolfgang finds himself, he always shines and we are in for a thorough musical treat.
(Jazz Online) What was your first recollection of jazz growing up?
(Wolfgang Muthspiel) Since I came from classical music but already liked improvising with my brother, we were electrified when we found out that there is a music out there in which improvisation was the main ingredient. The first impression, however, was what is this chaotic beautiful mess?
What was the first jazz recording you ever purchased?
Crystal Silence by Chick Corea and Gary Burton
Who are some of your main creative influences?
Many artists, writers, composers, players. The short list: Thomas Bernhard, Glenn Gould, Olivier Messiaen, Johannes Brahms piano music, J.S. Bach, Witold Lutoslawski, Beethoven String Quartets, Mozart Requiem, Renaissance Choral music like Gibbons, Gesualdo etc., Miles Davis, Pat Metheny, Prince, Joni Mitchell, Bill Evans, Paul Motian, Poetry from around the world (W.H. Auden, Rilke), and many musicians I play with!
What is the best thing about playing jazz?
The here and now sounds best, anything else is inferior.
How did you develop your sound and what has been your process evolving it?
I guess it happened through all the years of practicing and listening, emulating others and growing out of that. I never consciously developed my own sound. What I did was to consciously NOT play certain things and to stop certain automatisms.
In terms of guitar heroes, who are a few of yours?
Pat Metheny was my first hero and I still love him. Also Ralph Towner, who was an important link when I still played classical guitar. I adore Paco de Lucia. I really love Kurt Rosenwinkel. I enjoy Jeff Beck’s guitar playing. Bill Frisell was a revelation when he came on the scene and I always like John Scofield too.
What is your approach to using technology, effects, pedals etc.?
My approach is that I use some effects that are always on and become part of the sound, like compressor, delay, reverb. Then there is that distortion option, which is sometimes hard to fit together with an otherwise acoustic band, and then there is the loop option which I use a lot in solo playing.
Jazz Online Exclusive Spotify Playlist of Wolfgang’s music (selected by Wolfgang)
Your recent recording Where The River Goes is excellent. Can you tell us how it came to be and what your musical concept was with this quintet and material? And, is this album in some way a continuation of the Rising Grace quintet outing?
The album is a continuation of Rising Grace in it’s lineup and in the fact that there is a lot of room for interplay and constant dialogue. I wrote the material with those musicians in mind and it inspired me to think that Brad (Mehldau) will play this and Ambrose (Akinmusire) will play that etc.
Throughout Where The River Goes (and Rising Grace) your melodic rapport with Brad Mehldau is beautifully fluent and complementary, was this something the two of you worked on or was it something that just happened over time?
We never talked about it, but I knew that Brad is a deep listener and one of the world’s best compers. Comping is a high art in music, maybe the highest. So when we did those albums and a few gigs, it was clear that every note I play will have a consequence in his playing and vice versa. It was also amazing on his part to control the density of his choices in a way that invites the guitar always. I am truly fascinated by Brad’s musicality and artistry.
The trumpet of Ambrose Akinmusire is nicely featured on Where The River Goes. What is it about Ambrose’s playing that you enjoy in this context?
Ambrose is one of a kind. Courageous and intelligent and charismatic. He will often make the most unusual musical choices and they will influence the story in an unmistakable way, away from cliche and routine, towards something deeply spiritual.
In addition to playing guitar you also sing. Have you always sung? Who are some of your vocal influences.
As a child we all sang in the family, my father was conducting a Choire. But as a singer on stage I started very late, and I go to a classical singing teacher. There are a few projects I have in mind for the future. I love many singers but I am not sure they influenced me because I did not consider to actually sing on stage until I was 45 or so.
Name one recording that cannot live without.
Goldberg Variations by Glenn Gould, second recording.
What is your favorite escape?
A wooden cabin on a small lake in Austria.
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