Wolfgang Muthspiel, Dance of the Elders Review
Transcendent Harmonies: An Exploration of Wolfgang Muthspiel’s Dance of the Elders
by Ferell Aubre
Wolfgang Muthspiel’s Dance of the Elders takes the listener on a whirlwind tour through rich harmonies, polyrhythmic wonderlands, and effervescent musical conversations. Building upon the critical success of his previous album, Angular Blues, Muthspiel furthers his collaboration with Scott Colley and Brian Blade to create a medley that transcends musical categories. The album deftly blends jazz, classical, and folk into a tantalizing concoction far greater than the sum of its parts.
At the heart of this album lies the deep-seated musical camaraderie among the trio—Muthspiel, Colley, and Blade. This is immediately evident in the opening track, “Invocation,” where the three musicians engage in a meditative, ten-minute dialogue. The drone-like backdrop creates a mesmerizing canvas upon which Muthspiel’s guitar and Colley’s bass paint poignant, understated melodic statements, while Blade’s percussion enriches the palette. Muthspiel has said that this track was intended to be “a sort of ritual,” a sentiment that is palpable in the music’s immersive and ritualistic nature.
Tracks like “Prelude to Bach” and “Folk Song” showcase Muthspiel’s skill at seamlessly intertwining different musical languages. The former, inspired by J.S. Bach’s chorale “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” is a beautiful instance of how classical elements can be incorporated into a jazz context. Colley’s bowed bass conjures an exotic ambiance, only for Blade to leap in, adding texture with his cymbal work. The latter track, “Folk Song,” captures the harmonic inventiveness that Muthspiel admires in pianist Keith Jarrett, manifesting a meditative aura that allows listeners to lose themselves in a sea of harmonic possibilities.
The title track, “Dance of the Elders,” takes the listener on a rhythmic odyssey featuring clapping patterns and time signature shifts, which, according to Muthspiel, occasionally catch even a keen audience off-guard. It exemplifies how intellectual rigor in music can coincide with emotional resonance. This polyrhythmic playground allows for a nuanced, captivating experience that’s both cerebrally engaging and emotionally uplifting.
The album also pays homage to other artists, with renditions of Kurt Weill’s “Liebeslied” and Joni Mitchell’s “Amelia.” Muthspiel’s interpretation of these pieces is respectful and imaginative, lending his unique sonic signature without eroding the original’s essence. His tribute to Brad Mehldau in “Cantus Bradus” is similarly thoughtfully executed, capturing the pianist’s idiosyncratic sense of harmony and rhythm.
Dance of the Elders exemplifies what can be achieved when musicians are in intimate dialogue—both with their instruments and each other. It reveals a trio not content with resting on the laurels of their previous successes, pushing instead into ever more complex and rewarding musical territories. Whether it’s the intellectual depth of the title track or the emotional gravitas of their cover renditions, Muthspiel, Colley, and Blade demonstrate a mastery that sets them apart in the contemporary jazz scene. Dance of the Elders is a celebration of the limitless possibilities of musical collaboration.