Ralph Towner/ Wolfgang Muthspiel/Slava Grigoryan

Released September 20, 2013

DownBeat Five-Star Review

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/5ygzx8GmxucUl8RhAU2Nua?si=V3hKPjv4Rxavgib6mHcgLg


This story of three guitar players – from the US, Austria and Kazakhstan – begins in Australia. Ralph Towner and Wolfgang Muthspiel were on tour there, as solo performers, when they crossed paths with Slava Grigoryan. Grigoryan, aware that both Towner’s and Muthspiel’s improvising was influenced by classical playing experience as well as jazz suggested a three-way collaboration. A first tour, in 2005, presented the three of them as soloists, then in duets and finally in trio. After the first few concerts, Muthspiel has reported, they felt very much like a band, and they have continued to play together each year, further developing the group concept. In 2009, the group’s early progress was documented on the album From A Dream, released by Muthspiel’s own Material Records label.
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, distinguished musicians both, make their 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 also for space. There is none of the competitive display common to instrumental summit meetings: at all moments the players harness instrumental technique to very graceful musical ends. The repertoire of Travel Guide features five compositions by Towner, and five by Muthspiel.

Track Listing:

1. The Henrysons (Wolfgang Muthspiel) 7:04

2. Father Time (Ralph Towner) 4:37

3. Windsong (Wolfgang Muthspiel) 6:43

4. Duende (Ralph Towner) 4:28

5. Amarone Trio (Wolfgang Muthspiel) 5:41

6. Travel Guide (Ralph Towner) 6:34

7. Die Blaue Stunde (Wolfgang Muthspiel) 5:19

8. Nico und Mithra (Wolfgang Muthspiel) 3:44

9. Tarry (Ralph Towner) 1:03

10. Museum of Light (Ralph Towner) 5:17


Ralph Towner: classical guitar, 12-string guitar

Wolfgang Muthspiel: electric guitar, voice

Slava Grigoryan: classical guitar, baritone guitar

Recorded August, 2012, at Audiotorio Radiotelevision Svizzera, Lugano

Producer: Manfred Eicher

Engineer: Stefano Amerio

Design: Sascha Kleis


Three guitarists from three different continents with three very different disciplines unite for this breathtakingly beautiful trio outing, which is Towner’s 24th for the ECM label since 1972 and both Muthspiel’s and Grigoryan’s first on ECM. American Towner (now residing in Italy) brings his personalized fingerstyle approach to the table, while Austrian Muthspiel adds his deft touch on electric guitar and Kazakhstan-born Grigoryan (who was raised in Melbourne) provides a classical sensibility on pieces like Muthspiel’s delicate and lyrical “The Henrysons” and Towner’s sparse and dramatic “Museum Of Light.” While it is natural to compare this project with other successful guitar trios—like the famed union of John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola and Paco de Lucía during the early ’80s and the Three Guitars collaboration of Larry Coryell, John Abercrombie and Badi Assad in 2003— those were both strictly acoustic outings. It is Muthspiel’s warm, bell-like tones and flowing lines on electric guitar, along with his introduction of another texture into the proceedings in the form of wordless vocals on his beguiling “Amarone Trio,” that set this particular trio apart. Muthspiel also splits half of the 10 compositions here with Towner, providing a Methenyesque harmonic quality on “Windsong” then instigating some daring exploration on his open-ended “Die Blaue Stunde.” Sparks fly on Muthspiel’s kinetic “Nico und Mithra.” He and Grigoryan engage in some bristling unison lines on the challenging head before breaking off individually for some stunning solos. The two also combine for some tight, cascading harmony lines on Towner’s invigorating title track, which is one of the high-water marks of this brilliant six-string summit meeting.

Bill Milkowski (DownBeat)