Though it’s never quite easy-listening as such there is a lovely ease – a grace – to Wolfgang Muthspiel’s first album for ECM as a leader. He’s leading a trio of safe hands with Larry Grenadier’s bass and Brian Blade’s drums in support – and all three have worked together before.
There’s a soft, slow-burn to the opener, Joseph before Uptown shows off Muthspiel’s acoustic chops and his Pat Metheny-like way with not-quite-Latin-jazz, less a song than a recurring motif Uptown is again gentle, at ease, quite simple and stately but then, following the bridging Cambiata we get to Highline and the Metheny vibe gives way to some little traces of John McLaughlin, to a stripped back Mahavishnu vibe – as if that orchestra were working as a dinner-jazz trio.
It’s the interplay – the understanding – between the instruments that really makes this album work. Madame Vonn would be nothing without the flittering dance of Blade’s brushes, the closing Bossa For Michael Brecker becomes stunning tribute due to the searchlights-on bass playing from Grenadier, the roll and tumble and Elvin Jones-like shimmering fall of Blade’s drum fills – and then the way that sets up an exploratory piece of guitar playing from Muthspiel.
Driftwood isn’t a must-have 5-star classic but it’s an assured release, a set of safe-hands trio jazz with just enough happening to keep it exciting and never entirely predictable. It’s worth hearing if you’re into these sorts of sounds, certainly.