Mark Wingfield and Gary Husband – Tor & Vale [MoonJune 2019]
The music flows, untroubled. Every sound dodges any classification according to melodic development, harmonic construction or timber nuances. Striving, instead, to find an uneasy balance between ethereal and concrete, avoidance and focus, playfulness and reflection. Music heard so deeply/ That it is not heard at all, but you are the music/ While the music lasts wrote T.S. Eliot, looking for catching the essence of that unattended moment, when listening becomes a journey into the inner self. Guitarist Mark Wingfield and pianist Gary Husband put our perception of time on hold, and start navigating a free form land, embarking in an innermost quest into Time itself. Evoking the refined dialogues between John Abercrombie and Richie Beirach in Abercrombie‘s first quartet, or the intimate interchanges between Ralph Towner and John Taylor in Azimuth’s Depart, the two write a chapter of incredible beauty in their Tor & Vale. Feeling no constraint to go deeper and deeper, they make music for people who listen to time, by people who listen to time.
When producer Leonardo Pavkovic suggested the two to convene in his 2018 meetup in cozy and inspired location of La Casa Murada, near Barcelona -this is a place where many of latter years adventurous MoonJune recordings were created- Mark Wingfield and Gary Husband were immediately with the enticing idea of creating a duo between acoustic piano and electric guitar. The British guitarist is deservedly tapping into relevance thanks to his astonishing and organic use of technologies applied to six-strings. That seemed to be the perfect fit for a one of the most underrated piano players around, namely Gary Husband.
While Husband garnered a loot of attention thanks to his work at the drum stool with the greatest of the fusion in the last forty years and, more recently, thanks to his incredible playing at the keyboards, he is a startling pianist as well. He has released two piano solo records, one dedicated to re-interpreting the music of longtime partner Allan Holdsworth and the other dedicated to John McLaughlin. Both albums brilliantly showcase a musician concerned in kicking out unexpected nuances with no worn out or celebratory intent of imitation. Yet this is the second piano/electric guitar recording Husband goes through, the first one being a duo with Alex Machacek named Now. No doubt that recording was a show off of virtuoso dialogue between two virtuoso musicians, the flipside being the pleasant discovery of a pianist so influenced by a somber, classically imbued playing. He was evidently cut out for the unusual tastes of Mark Wingfield, a guitarist and, first and foremost, a listener who loves to dig into classical and ethnic music. When I had the pleasure to chat with Wingfield earlier this year, he remembered the starting moment of the duo collaboration: I had this feeling that something special could happen, because Gary’s piano playing is drawing influences not only from jazz, but also a lot from classical. I have those influences too.
Kittihawke and Tryfan both start with bouncing riffs that allude to folk dances. Wingfield, as usual, loves to focus on extending the usage of his whammy bar and effects to produce a brass sound out of his guitar. Husband is elegant and disciplined in his playing. His angularly polished solo in Tryfan is never overstated, he sounds careful and intriguing. Wingfield answers him with a gunshot of fast notes at start, then adds wails, whammies and a dramatic crescendo -always counterpointed by his trademark reverberations. The two never tease out from prolonged solos, never leave open for pushing each track forth and forth, kicking the dramatic energy into gear anytime. Since, Tryfan‘s dramatic tension could inevitably end anywhere else than in a peaceful undertow, when Wingfield reaches the upper register of the guitar with a prolonged note. Tryfan is the name of a small mountain in Wales where there is a beautiful valley or vale right at the foot of it -notes Wingfield. 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.
Each cross they turn, each ridge they climb, Wingfield and Husband are after something ineffable, with no fear of covering a lot of ground. In the UK the word ‘tor’ often refers to a prominent hill with steep sides that stands out from the rest of the countryside -says Wingfield to explain the meaning behind the title. 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.
Two musicians going through all the time they need, never regretting any rest where unnecessary. The sixteen minutes title track, one of completely improvised pieces -given it is often uneasy to straighten out where improvisation or writing starts in Tor & Vale, is an inspired dialogue that never lets down in any single second. With almost no rhythmic cue, they speak each other’s language, a glistening and heavenly question an answer that praises the words in the liner notes by Bill Milkowski, comparing the couple to what a potential duo recording between Keith Jarrett and Terje Rypdal might have sounded like. Husband slowly creates almost scalar phrases, over an inexistent modal carpet, and bounces back and forth throughout the piece on a pentatonic theme. The guitarist is always up to add interspersed fast licks or beguilging howls over it. At almost the seven minutes mark, Wingfield turns to an inspired hiss and the music seems to soar. It takes up to the twelve minutes mark until the two vent their energy to break loose of any burden and fly free over a flurry of notes. It’s the dramatic finale, once again, to show how Husband and Wingfield are not interested in drawing the line at compromises and, instead, they leave any mooring to charge up over the highest cliffs, only to watch the landscape from above.
Being up to play completely improvised music is a slippery slope, no matter who you are. Even more if you look to enact a prolonged experience, simply put to record long tracks. With only two tracks below the seven minutes duration, Tor & Vale is an organic and dreamy experience, that never bores or needs any cut off. Gary Husband and Mark Wingfield, two gifted musicians united by a communality of purposes, get out of the line and revel in creating a language out of time, where time stands still.
Mark Wingfield & Gary Husband
Tor & Vale
2.The Golden Thread 08:18
3.Night Song 05:48
4.Tor & Vale 16:27
5.Shape Of Light 10:41
6.Tryfan 09:36 video
7.Silver Sky 11:59
MARK WINGFIELD guitar, soundscape
GARY HUSBAND acoustic piano
All compositions by Mark Wingfield except 04, 05, 07
which were spontaneously improvised by Mark Wingfield and Gary Husband.
Produced by Mark Wingfield.
Executive production by Leonardo Pavkovic for MoonJune Records.