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Virtuosic jazz guitarist returns to Adelaide

Arts & Culture

When ground-breaking Austrian jazz guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel returns to Adelaide to play in this year’s Guitar Festival line-up, fans will be treated to some new compositions never performed in Australia.

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Wolfgang Muthspiel is one of the world’s most influential and prolifically recorded multi-instrumentalists and composers, most widely known for jazz guitar genius.

His music and collaborative performance is not new to Adelaidians. In 2013 Muthspiel played in Adelaide with classical guitarist Slava Grigoryan and US multi-instrumentalist Ralph Towner as part of a national tour, and in 2010 he performed with Tunisian singer and oud player Dhafer Youssef as part of the Adelaide Guitar Festival.

Born in 1965, Muthspiel began playing violin at the age of six. He switched to guitar at age 14 and began to create his own music with his brother Christian. His interest in improvisation led to a passion for jazz and the opportunity to study at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston and tour with the Gary Burton band, earning him an outstanding reputation in the US jazz scene. He went on to work with musicians such as TrilokGurtu, YoussouN’Dour, Dave Liebman, Bob Berg and many others, before returning to Europe in 2002 where he is in demand as a virtuosic and creative collaborator.

This year at the Adelaide Guitar Festival Muthspiel will play alongside US drummer Brian Blade and bassist Larry Grenadier, who have both recorded with artists such as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock and Norah Jones. Together they will play in the group known as the Wolfgang Muthspiel Trio.

Muthspiel describes their music as instrumental songs that are re-invented each time they are performed, a blend of casually shifting moments of subtlety and power in an ever building wave.

“We don’t attempt to play a song the same way each time like a pop group,” he explains. “We want to play it different each time, it’s our game.”

However he says it’s not ‘free jazz’, which is fully-improvised without any kind of agreement between the musicians about what to play.

“Some people are a little bit afraid of jazz – especially free jazz – our performance is based on melodies and harmonies that have been established beforehand.”

While Muthspiel’s music is nothing like pop music, he says that some of his greatest inspiration comes from pop musicians.

“A big hero of mine is Prince, also The Beatles.”

But his jazz favourites, he says, are Miles Davis and Keith Jarrett.

“I recently saw Keith Jarrett in concert in Vienna with Slava Griogoryan while we were on tour there. Jarrett was playing free jazz, it was just fantastic.

“Brian Blade, who is now a part of the Wolfgang Muthspiel Trio, is also a big source of inspiration.”

Muthspiel has had a long working relationship with both members of the Wolfgang Muthspiel Trio. He met Blade, the Trio’s drummer, in the late 1990s while they were teaching in Denmark. They went on to play together in New York.

“I met Larry Grenadier, the Trio’s bass player, even earlier in Boston in the late 1980s while we were playing in Gary Burton’s band.

“Between the three of us we have played in lots of concerts together.”

Also at the 2016 Adelaide Guitar Festival, Muthspiel will join festival artistic director and classical guitarist Slava Griogoryan and German born Australian classical guitarist Karin Schaupp who with the Australian String Quartet will present a concert of rarely performed chamber works for guitar and strings, including Muthspiel’s own composition ‘Flexible Sky’ on August 14.

In the lead up to the Trio’s first Adelaide Guitar Festival performance on August 13, the group will appear in concert tomorrow at the Sydney Recital Hall and on Thursday at the Melbourne Recital Hall.

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