MARK WINGFIELD guitar, soundscapes GARY HUSBAND acoustic piano
There was some magic that unfolded during this intimate session at La Casa Murada, a recording studio located in a 12th century farmhouse in Catalonia about an hour outside of Barcelona. Gracefully yet deliberately, the music emerged like a force of nature, winding and floating its way through the medieval building from fingers to strings to the pleasure centers of the brain. Credit the vibe of the unique room for creating the perfect ambiance in which this magic between Mark Wingfield and Gary Husband could take place. High ceilings, walls of stone and lots of natural light pouring in, it set the proper mood for this first-ever one-on-one encounter between the two countrymen. And credit producer Leonardo Pavkovic with having the rare intuition and foresight that this duo would indeed foster magic together in the studio.
Wingfield is the forward-thinking British electric guitarist whose impressionistic work over the past decade is reshaping the sound of his instrument. “Wingfield’s guitar playing is mysterious, majestic and blazing in turns,” wrote Guitar Player magazine while All About Jazz crowed, “Wingfield makes his guitar howl, sing and cry for mercy amid flickering single note runs” and Music That Matters simply called him a “six-string winged, improvising shaman.”
Fellow Brit Husband has long been revered as one of the greatest drummers on the scene for his fabled association, since 1979, with the late, legendary guitarist Allan Holdsworth. A longtime doubler, he has also showcased his exceptional keyboard skills with his New Gary Husband Trio and Force Majeure, Billy Cobham’s Spectrum Band and John McLaughlin & The 4th Dimension. Husband has also released two luminous solo piano recordings, The Things I See: Interpretations of the Music of Allan Holdsworth and A Meeting Of Spirits: Interpretations of the Music of John McLaughlin.
For musical dreamers and ECM devotees, Tor & Vale answers the hypothetical question: “What if Terje Rypdal had recorded a duet album with Keith Jarrett?” A beautiful document that showcases the remarkable chemistry between these two extraordinary players, it is a gem of nuanced interaction and rare potency by improvisers of the highest order. “This recording captures and reflects the mutual enthusiasm and easy kind of compatibility we found with each other that was present at all times throughout the sessions in Spain,” noted Husband. “None of it felt forced or seemed to require a lot of effort at all. It just happened, just as you hear it.”
Added Wingfield, “As soon as we started playing it was clear that there was an instant musical connection there and a willingness to really open up and explore. With the composed pieces, we decided just before playing how we would structure it. We discussed who would solo first and where the melody would come back just based on how we felt it might work best, but with the proviso that if the music felt like it wanted to go somewhere else at any give point, we would follow that.
“I wanted to take an approach to the composed pieces where we were free to move in and out of or reinterpret the chord structure,” he continued. “Gary was of the same mind so we agreed to freely interpret what I’d written and even to depart completely from the chord progression if that felt right when we were improvising. As for the improvised pieces, there was nothing at all planned. We started the session with the composed pieces and things went so well
that by the time we got to the improvised pieces we felt there was no need to discuss how to approach them.”
While “Kittiwake,” “The Golden Thread,” “Night Song,” “Tryfan” and “Vaquita” were all compositions brought to the session by Wingfield, there was also plenty of room for stretching here. Check the last highly conversational minute of “The Golden Thread” to confirm that freedom-within-form principle. “Night Song,” likewise, is brimming with call-and-response exchanges and dramatic rubato exploration by the two kindred spirits.
The evocative 16-1/2-minute title track is a freely improvised excursion in the studio, the result of two intrepid improvisers being open to the moment. With a premium put on space, each note played during this uncharted interaction took on huge authority. And both Wingfield and Husband rose to the occasion with stirring statements that are full of conviction and throbbing with virtuosity (like Wingfield’s organic flurries of 32nd notes throughout) while remaining complementary to the flow.
“Shape of Light” is another improvised exploration that travels from an opening ambient soundscape to a gentle solo showcase for Husband’s piano at the 3-minute mark before resolving to a lovely, lyrical duet. “Tryfan” is a driving, dissonant number featuring some of Wingfield’s most potent six-string statements, underscored by Husband’s forceful comping. Picture a cross between Terje Rypdal and Robert Fripp and you’re getting the picture.
The third purely improvised piece, “Silver Sky,” is a spacious soundscape imbued with ambient swirls and patient statements by the two participants. Wingfield’s ‘howling, singing, crying’ guitar is in full effect here.
The guitarist’s thoughtfully composed closer, “Vaquita,” is infused with liquid whammy bar statements, furious 32nd-note fusillades and ambient echo washes. “Like most of the music I write, it started with a feeling or an atmosphere which I then translated into music,” he explained. “Sometimes these feelings or atmospheres are accompanied by images of places or scenes from people’s lives. Other times they are more of an emotional story of some kind with no particular image or scene in mind. ’Vaquita’ was more in this later category. For me, this one has quite a bit of momentum, as if you are being propelled through a story which travels up and down through the different events and feelings in the tale.”
Husband explained that the intuitive nature of this Tor & Vale session has been part of his modus operandi for years. “I actually have the infuriating habit of listening to initial instruction or some kind of plan, only to then completely disregard it and let instinct and intuition take over,” he said. “I love the conversational, instinctive process to make it’s own way and present itself through us.”
Wingfield explained his own modus operandi this way: “What I’ve been interested in for a long time is a type of free improvisation where rather than just playing completely ‘free’, you instead attempt to improvise as if there was something composed. Another way to explain this is to improvise as if you were composing a piece — line by line — in real time. Of course, it will sound improvised but it’s a radically different approach to playing free in the traditional sense.
“Gary is someone who is very at home with this idea too,” he continued. “Our wide range of common musical reference points meant that we were able to go on some extended improvised journeys. And he is such a great player. I knew his piano work so I knew he was able to go way outside the usual jazz improvised format and reference lots of different musical
worlds. So I knew there was a real potential to do something like this with him. But I had no idea beforehand that the session would go so well or that we would be able to communicate musically on the level we did.”
Wingfield also explained the title of his first-ever duo collaboration with Husband: “In the UK the word ‘tor’ often refers to a prominent hill with steep sides that stands out from the rest of the countryside. Some of these are natural but others are man-made and date back to the 7th century or possibly even back to the iron age. They had a significance for ancient people and are a significant sight on the landscape still. A ‘vale’ is, of course, a dip in the landscape. So for me, Tor & Vale represents a changing, undulating, twisting and turning landscape. Areas of the UK are particularly known for this kind of terrain. The track ‘Tryfan’ also refers to this. Tryfan is the name of a small mountain in Wales where there is a beautiful valley or vale right at the foot of it. There are also areas of the Peak District in England and elsewhere which fit this description. It’s the kind of landscape where you never know what you might find around the corner of a windy road. Some of the improvisations on this album made me think of these landscapes.
“Having said that, the music is not specifically about a landscape,” he continued. “For me, the places it goes are more varied — sometimes natural landscapes, sometimes urban, sometimes it’s more about a feeling or moment or something indescribable outside of music. That’s what I love about music: it can describe things we all know but which cannot be explained in words or images. So the landscape connection is an abstract one, but for me it was a name which fit.”
Following this MoonJune release, the formidable improvising duo is now considering the prospects of touring together in support of Tor & Vale. “I think it’s an excellent idea,” said Husband. “It would be pretty eventful, I feel, to build on this already existing simpatico and explore how and where it can all go.”
Stay tuned. — Bill Milkowski
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