Conversational and improvisational, Tor & Vale is a first-ever series of dialogues between guitarist Mark Wingfield and pianist Gary Husband that’s suitably named for the peaks and valleys of the two native Brits’ homeland. Both musicians are equipped for such a shape-shifting session, in which space between notes is as important as notes themselves. Wingfield’s 15-year recording career reveals influences based more in jazz horn players and pianists, and world and classical music, than other guitarists. Husband’s lengthy career as a spectacular drummer has fueled his pianistic prowess, as indicated by his solo piano homages to two revered employers, guitarists Allan Holdsworth and John McLaughlin.
Wingfield composed most of the disc’s eight pieces, with three being complete improvisations. His opening “Kittiwake” starts with droning chords by Husband, forming an undercurrent to the guitarist’s soaring bends and leading to the pianist’s classically influenced solo. “The Golden Thread” is more playful and improvised, as the participants agreed beforehand not to be bound by notation, resulting in call-and-response phrases throughout. “Night Song” likewise shifts from ominous beginnings to cat-and-mouse passages, starts and stops, and the sound of musicians listening to each other’s choices, whether notes or rests.
The improvised pieces go even deeper. The 16-minute title track segues between pastoral beauty and soundtrack material for a horror film, as Husband waits to surprise Wingfield—whose guitar tones provide the piece’s macabre nature—with darting, rubato piano stabs. Husband lays out for the first minute of “Shape of Light,” allowing Wingfield to set the tone before entering the patient soundscape and contributing a majestic solo. And “Silver Sky” offers ambient beauty in Husband’s chording and Wingfield’s arcing single-note phrases. Tor & Vale won’t be for anyone looking for background music. Those who actively listen, though, will find beauty in its landscape.
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