Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Tor & Vale : A No Net Musical Collaboration by Mark Wingfield and Gary Husband

Mark Wingfield and Gary Husband Tor & Vale  Moonjune  MJR 098
Intriguing, evolutionary electric guitar player/composer Mark Wingfield joins with the equally progressive, audacious multi-instrumentalist, the British drummer/keyboard artist Gary Husband on Tor&Vale. The two have created an exciting new album that offers an atmospheric journey to the vanguard of creative musical expression. The collaboration was the inspiration of the impresario producer Leonardo Pavkovic and featured on his label Moonjune Records.

Could this meeting of two gifted virtuosos, Wingfield and Husband, be the modern-day equivalent of an often dreamt but never realized collaboration between artists like pianist Keith Jarrett and guitarist Terje Rypdal, as the liner writer Bill Milkowski ponders?  Speculation aside, these two musicians expand the possibilities of fearless collaboration.

Mark Wingfield (photo credit unknown)
Mark Wingfield is an American born, domiciled in Great Britain guitarist. To me Wingfield's atmospheric style is a futuristic, John Abercrombie inspired, electronically juiced star traveler.  He has a history of expanding the limits of the electric guitar. He continues to define his own individual sound, utilizing creative electronics, employing non decaying sustain and using computer and software enhanced methodologies. He often explores tonal variation and inflection, techniques more identified with vocalists or horn players than a traditional guitarist. He is  gifted with an enviable facility and an acuity for creative invention. His creative work is certainly out of the mainstream. He is influenced by a musical history that includes the study of genres like African, Japanese, Indian and Middle Eastern music, European classical, and all types of jazz and rock music. 

Gary Husband ( photo credit unknown) 
Gary Husband (photo credit unknown)
Gary Husband was trained as a classical pianist. He is known for his journeyman work as an accomplished double-threat sideman. Since 1979, he was a member of fusion guitar giant Allan Holdsworth's groups until the guitarist's death in 2017. On multiple occasions from 1992 through 2013, he collaborated with fusion drummer Billy Cobham. Impressively, to date, Husband is the only drummer to have played drums in duet with the iconic Cobham on one of his recordings. He was enlisted as an essential dual-threat musician for guitarist John McLaughlin’s the 4th Dimension Band and he lead his own groups the Gary Husband Trio and his Force Majeure, which included Mahavishnu violinist Jerry Goodman and trumpeter Randy Brecker. A propulsive drummer whose remarkable facility and inventiveness has been in demand across many genres, his artistry as a keyboard artist and pianist is rich and has an exploratory, percussive approach that retains sensitivity while generating mystery and power.

The title, Tor&Valeis comprised of two words that in the United Kingdom refer to a prominent, steeply sided hill or Tor, and a corresponding geographical depression in the landscape, a Vale. The music was recorded in the intimate and historic setting of La Casa Murada, a quaint 12th century stone and masonry farmhouse outside of Barcelona, Spain. To Wingfield the album's title represents a constantly shifting, twisting and turning landscape;an ever-altering environmental experience. As a listener, Wingfield and Husband lead you through a soundscape journey that hints of a direction, eschewing predictability, erupting with possibilities.

Wingfield contributed five composed pieces: “Kittiwake,” “The Golden Thread,” “Night Song,” “Tryfan,” and “Vaquita,”  The guitarist has once said “Composing for improvisors is quite different" (… from composing for classical musicians, which he also has done.)"You need to leave room for them to do what they do. … But at the same time, you have to write in enough of the essential notes, so that the music retains its fundamental story and atmosphere…”

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In Husband, Wingfield has found an empathetic and equally accomplished bandmate whose willingness to explore is priceless. The two have an almost psychic connection. Even during the totally improvised collaborations- the title piece “Tor and Vale,” the ethereal “Shape of Light” and the tranquil “Silver Sky,” - the two lead each other in unpredictable and uncharted directions.  This approach requires receptiveness and attuned intuition. Their chemistry is harmonious, innovative and intrepid. To me, these are the musical equivalent of  un-roped, free-style rock climbers ascending a challenge like El Capitan. They start in a direction and they never look back, always advancing wherever the moment may lead them.

Alex Honnold free climbing El Capitan (photo credit unknown)
The opening composition “Kittwake,”( a name perhaps inspired by the shipwreck in the Cayman Islands or the name of a coastal bird seen on the coast) features Wingfield’s rubato tone modulating guitar on this eerie melody. Husband creates a rhythm that has an almost militaristic cadence. When Husband solos, he maintains the cadence while he explores exciting possibilities on the melody.

“The Golden Thread," another composed Wingfield piece, prances into a theme through the guitarist’s gamboling melody. His guitar employs a moaning, very voice-like sound. Husband generates gentle classical elements on his piano accompaniment. The two start an inspired conversation in the last minute or two of the performance that leads to Husband creating a set of delicate cascading notes as Wingfield's guitar carefully decays to a fading sigh.

“Night Song” has an impressionistic quality that seems to conjure up a mysterious locale. Wingfield travels through this enigmatic scene, with guitar lines alternating between swift and languorous. Husband deftly adds accents from his piano in support of guitarist’s lead, adding his own gorgeous interpretations of interplay. Eventually plays a gentle, descending sound of water on his piano, an organic cascade of notes at the coda as Wingfield’s guitar fades into silence.

The title track, “Tor&Vale,” is an over sixteen-minute free-improvised creation  by these two explorers.  They start off pensively.Wingfield’s leading guitar sets the tone, penetrating the ozone, ascending the aural terrain with no apparent destination. He is a master of impressionism, utilizing what sounds like a looped whirl of accompaniment. He deploys a magnetic sustain device on his guitar that allows the notes to hang indefinitely. He can vary tone during sustain and create a seamless, smooth rubato effect. He also uses a bowed-string section effect that he modulates in and out like wispy shadows of sound in the accompaniment. The incursion inspires Husband, who is playing on an un-electronically augmented acoustic grand piano, to rely more on variations of manual technique. He responds often with a pointillistic attack, stabbing his lines in a staccato fashion, varying the music using timber, speed, strength or sensitivity of his touch to vitalize tension, tenderness or suspense in the music. Husband’s playing is marvelously heterogeneous, as he can evoke thoughtful classically inspired beauty, be tempered by jazz influenced rhythmic considerations or employ a radical free style approach to improvising.

“Shape of Light," the second of the three purely improvised selections, finds the mystical Wingfield opening this cumulus journey with measured expressive notes. This inspires Husband’s most melodic and buoyant responses. All the selections were remarkably recorded one take through without any modifications or re-takes.

The name“Tryfan,”, one of my favorites, is a name of a small mountain in Wales. Another composition that creates a dynamic soundscape representative of the impression the location had on the writer. With darting, piercing guitar lines,  Wingfield offers a sense of tension as well as mystery.  His distinctive electronically modified guitar probes into the stratosphere like alien transmissions originating from a distant planet. Husband, by contrast, has an organic flow to his piano; a gorgeous, melodic and more earth anchored presentation. He is a master of tone and attack. He offers a solo improvisation that is swift, poignant and creative, delivering some of his most moving piano solo work on the album.

“Silver Sky” is the last of the spontaneously improvised selections from this date. The music is maintains the flowing, ethereal and tranquil feeling of most of the selections.

“Vaquita," the last of the Wingfield compositions, is the final piece on the album. It starts out in a short stabbing manner that evolves into a more lyrical theme. Wingfield leads the listener into the barest of melodies as Husband creates an armature of rhythm that supports the guitarist’s excursions. Husband’s probing piano solo adds beauty and a sense of grounding the perfect foil to the guitarist adventurous digressions.

This is not foot taping or melody humming music, but an impressive aural journey into the unknown. This is a masterful collaboration that brings the listener to the outer edges of musical possibilities. 

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