Even before I started listening to this album, the omens were good. Firstly, the two improvisers recorded it in its entirety on my birthday, and then we have the title. For non-Brits, tor is a hill or rocky outcrop, while a vale is a valley, so they co-exist side by side and it is not possible to have one without the other. I grew up in South Devon, spent as much time as I could on Dartmoor where there is Hound Tor, Yes Tor, and so many others, and my parents named our house Haytor after one of the most well-known granite outcrops. Mark Wingfield has been making quite a name for himself in recent years with his stunning guitar albums, while Gary Husband will always be thought of for his long relationship with Allan Holdsworth, which started all the way back in 1979. Although Husband has always been primarily thought of as a drummer, he is also a very accomplished pianist and it is in that role he provides the counterpoint to Wingfield.
Some of the songs were written by Wingfield ahead of time, others were improvised on the spot, but this is all about two musicians playing call and response, listening to the other and instinctively reacting. 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 its own way and present itself through us.” The result is something quite magical, as two players intuit what the other is going to do before they even know it themselves, as they move and guide each other through a journey where not only is the destination not know, there is no map. This freedom can be paralyzing to some, but here there is no hesitation, no looking back, just always pushing onwards to a final result which is as yet unknown.
This is music without a net, no room to hide behind others, just two guys in a room with the red light on and concentrating intently on what each of them is doing and letting the music spirit guide them on the path. Intense, dramatic, powerful, this is a wonderful album in so many ways. Production is top-notch, as is everything that comes out of the Spanish La Casa Murada Studio, which has been a base for so much of Wingfield’s work. Yet another essential release from Moonjune.
9/10 Kev Rowland