Cool Cats at Porgy’s

The Wolfgang Muthspiel Trio at Porgy & Bess, Vienna’s Eclectic Home of Contemporary Jazz

Austrian born Wolfgang Muthspiel has dedicated his life to Jazz ever since he picked up the guitar at age 15. According to Musicians Magazine, he was voted one of the top ten jazz guitarists of the world. After a decade of refining his art in New York City, he returned to Vienna, and created the Wolfgang Muthspiel Trio with brother musicians Matthias and Andreas Pichler from Tirol.

On May 3, the trio played at Vienna’s Porgy and Bess, to help promote their recent album Bright Side (2006). Walking through the baroque buildings of Vienna’s First District, in a maze of criss-crossing streets, you come upon Porgy & Bess fronted by a Broadway marquee. Unlike the cramped hole in the wall jazz cellars that smell of old cigarettes and lost dreams, Porgy and Bess is a contemporary contradiction.

Down the darkened hallway, you enter a posh urban nightclub, accentuated with its low-lying Asian fusion furniture, and elongated rice paper lamps that hang above.

Reaching the bottom, the door opens onto a modern interpretation of an opera house. Replacing the curved decorative interior of a traditional theatre is a hard angular minimalist décor with the ever-present red and black contrasting colors.

As I stand there at the bar running down the long side of the hall, the owner of the club enters the stage. Reminiscent of a comedy club presenter from New York trying to pump up the crowd, he introduces what everyone hopes will be a singular experience.

As he exits, the Wolfgang Muthspiel Trio enters. As the applause dies down, you begin to realize what a motley crew this trio makes. Wolfgang Muthspiel’s appearance was in stark contrast to the rough edged beards and ponytails of the brothers. A man with closely cropped hair and groomed features, his vintage burgundy leather jacket and woolen slacks, presents him in a light that makes it unmistakable who is the lead in this play.

There is an air of anticipation as the bassist slides into his set with the occasional pull of the string followed by silence, a look of intense concentration on his face. He seems to be waiting for the perfect cord to be handed down from the heavens. All of a sudden the silence is obliterated with a barrage of bass cords.

The one overwhelming constant in Muthspiel’s music is that there seems to be none. Once you think you have a grasp on the kind of artist he is, he flips you around with a song that cuts down any preconceived notions. The music seems to come from a kaleidoscope of different influences, everything from classical to modern funk. Some songs have the pace and cadence reminiscent of Thelonious Monk. At other times the Latin American influence of Stan Getz’s album Desafinado seems to come through. Yet while paying homage to other artists, there is no question that the Wolfgang Muthspiel Trio has a sound all its own.

Unlike many prominent Jazz musicians, who tend to use jazz standards as a base for their own improvisational skill, Muthspiel’s music is almost wholly original.

Like legendary guitar master Johnny Smith, his guitar riffs are a roller coaster of lighting fast single note runs, alternated with rich smooth harmonies that never seem to end. There is a depth and complexity to his music that can only come from decades of mastery.

As the multiple encores exhausted the strength of even the most ardent of fans, the lights dimmed for the last time, and the audience meandered out of the hall. Staying with the few stragglers around the bar, I waited for the Trio to finish packing up a hodgepodge of stage equipment. As time passed, bassist Matthias Pichler sat with some friends on one of the many empty chairs situated haphazardly around the hall. With his large frame, long hair, and beard, he was an opposing figure. After giving him some time to relax, I stoke up a conversation. Any insecurities I had faded away, as he greeted me with a disarming smile and was more than willing to ask his colleagues, if they wanted to meet me.

For a man who is considered in many circles, to be one of the preeminent jazz musicians of the world, Wolfgang had an engaging persona. He spoke openly about his music career in New York City, and his touring around the world.  You really begin to feel that unlike some musicians, who’s reason for picking up an instrument was to someday have hordes of adoring fans, Muthspiel’s motives were the love of the craft itself.

The parallels between him as a person and the accessibility and sophistication of his music became self-evident. An instrument never lies. It reveals the true depth of a person, and creates an extraordinary experience for the lucky few who are in its presence.


Porgy & Bess

Riemergasse 11

1010 Wien

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