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.
Ralph Towner was born in Washington in 1940. He began his jazz career as a Bill Evans inspired pianist, then travelled to Vienna to study classical guitar with Karl Scheit, the renowned Austrian guitarist, lutenist and pedagogue. In New York City in the late 1960s, Towner freelanced on both piano and guitar, collaborating with musicians from Freddie Hubbard to Tim Hardin. He co-founded the band Oregon in 1970, together with Collin Walcott, Glenn Moore and Paul McCandless – all of whom would appear on Towner’s ECM debut, Trios/Solos, in 1972. His recordings for ECM have included solo albums, duo projects (with John Abercrombie, Gary Peacock, Gary Burton and, recently, Paolo Fresu), bands under his direction (including the much-loved Solstice with Jan Garbarek, Eberhard Weber, Jon Christensen) and discs with Oregon. He has also contributed to albums by Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Kenny Wheeler and Egberto Gismonti, and guested with the group Azimuth. As an instrumentalist Towner has shaped distinct languages for his classical and 12-string guitars. He has described his approach to the guitar as “pianistic: my brain wants to have access to all those notes at once.” As a composer he remains a unique force, combining baroque counterpoint, rhythms and melodies inspired by Brazilian music and jazz tradition, and a personal approach to harmony and development.
Wolfgang Muthspiel was born in Judenburg Austria in 1965. He played violin from the age of six and took up the guitar at 15. At the Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Graz he studied both classical and jazz guitar, subsequently winning national competitions for classical music as well as the International Guitar Competition in Mettman, Germany. Interested in improvisation from an early age, in 1986 he emigrated to the US to study at the New England Conservatory with teachers including Mick Goodrick. At The Berklee School Of Music he met Gary Burton who invited him to join his quintet. While based in New York from 1995 to 2002, he participated in a great variety of musical projects with artists including Rebekka Bakken, Trilok Gurtu, Youssou N’Dour, Gary Peacock, Dave Liebman, Peter Erskine and many others. Current projects include a duo with Brian Blade, a quartet featuring pianist Jean-Paul Brodbeck, and a trio with Larry Grenadier and Chris Cheek. In addition to his jazz projects, Muthspiel writes for contemporary classical ensembles and has received commissions from the Ensemble for New Music Zurich, Kangforum Wien, The Austrian Ministry of Arts, the Boston-based Marimolin ensemble and more. He is at home in many musical contexts and the integration of his electric guitar between the classical guitars of Towner and Grigoryan on the present recording seems entirely natural. He occasional expands the textural palette of the group with wordless singing, as on “Amarone Trio.”
Slava Grigoryan was born in 1976 in Kazakhstan and moved with his family to Australia in 1981. Raised in Melbourne he began to study guitar at the age of seven and was playing professionally at the age of 12; he made his debut in Sydney at 14. Early success at the Tokyo International Classical Guitar Competition established his reputation and led to recordings on Sony (and, later, ABC) and he has appeared with leading orchestras including the London Philharmonic, the BBC Concert Orchestra, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Northern Sinfonia, the Israel Symphony Orchestra, the Dresden Radio Orchestra, the Klagenfurt Symphony Orchestra and the Halle Orchestra. He appears often with his guitarist brother Leonard: their duo features the standard classical repertoire but also reaches out to embrace contemporary composition, jazz, folk and more. Both brothers are also members of the Australian guitar quartet, Saffire, and play in the Band of Brothers ensemble with Joseph and James Tawadros.