Tor & Vale is the early summer 2019 release from guitarist Mark Wingfield and pianist Gary Husband. The album was recorded in high resolution digital on a single day during a multi-day set of sessions with other artists at La Casamurada Studios in Catalonia, Spain by audio engineer Jesus Rovira and comprises of five compositions by Wingfield and three purely improvised pieces by the duo, including the free-form 16-1/2-minute title track. The striking acoustic piano and electronic guitar pieces perfectly demonstrate the benefits of high-resolution audio through a multitude of qualities, all while placing the listener in the room with the musicians.
What becomes evident so quickly while listening is the pure connection between the two extraordinary players, they have created several tracks that find the peace one would expect in New Age music, the random and somewhat dissonant sound associated with Avant Guard and the intelligencia heard in the Classical genre. These nuanced gems exhibit a rare potency that explodes in dynamics and tone.
During my recent interview with Wingfield, I learned he processes his guitar through a series of advanced digital effects appearing behind the instruments, which aid in sculpting a completely transparent and open sound. Subtle changes in tone are clearly noticed, and timber is brilliantly defined on this 96kHz / 24-bit download. On the improvised piece “Shape of Light,” the guitar extends from the left channel with a haunting reverberant space that falls across the stereo sound stage. Take note to how the guitar appears to float with each note and soar out from the left falling deep into the remainder of the space.
The track “The Golden Thread” is brimming with glistening call-and-response exchanges that follow the dramatic melody of the composition. I love how the recording captures the mutual enthusiasm found between the two players. Husband comments, “None of it felt forced or seemed to require a lot of effort at all. It just happened, just as you hear it.” So very true, and his piano is wonderfully dynamic and natural sounding, while being well balanced across the 88 keys. Its percussive aspect is striking and the top keys are extremely vivid with sharp accents that absolutely demonstrate the advantages of recording in a hi-res format. When producer Wingfield mixed the album at Heron Island Studio, he added treatments that extend the depth of the keyboards, providing a real sense of space and adding an open ambience that is extremely lucid.
The musical connection is so evident and translates perfectly across the soundstage making Tor & Vale a perfect introspective listen. Apparently the willingness to really open up and explore the five Wingfield compositions ended up leading the two musicians to skip discussion on how to approach the improvised pieces, effectively winging it, no pun intended! In fact for Husband this has been his modus operandi for years, typically tossing out initial instructions anyway and just allowing instinct and intuition to take over. Wingfield notes that it was their wide range of common musical reference points that gave them latitude to go on some extended improvised journeys, and he says “Gary is such a great player and 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.”
What you won’t find among the bits and samples is any sense of distortion, glaring tape hiss or effects noise. Rather, this is pure audio and the background use of complex processing on the guitar allow Wingfields instrument to feel acoustic in nature, fitting perfectly alongside the piano. There is an openness and freedom to the recordings and mix that emanates the essence of musical joy and a fluidity of spiritual connection. From the lows onward up through the highs, the richness, clarity, and vibrance across the audio spectrum is smooth and realistic. I found no harshness, extruded humps in any frequency, and a fast response to attacks and decays. Tor & Vale is simply a wonderful sounding recording.
This impressionistic album truly sounds fantastic and is suited well for audiophiles seeking high quality duo works. The mysterious and evocative pieces are filled with howling and blazing guitar accompanied by stunning and vibrant piano parts, all in a vivid soundscape that stretches widely across the stereo field. The duo has made musical magic and jazz and free-form enthusiasts are advised to pick up their copy. It is available on CD and Vinyl, but for those like myself, the lossless hi-res files can be downloaded through Moonjune’s BandCamp page as stereo WAVE, FLAC, or ALAC versions. The CD edition is shipping as of July 5, 2019 and Vinyl copies will ship in the near future.
Available on CD and Vinyl, plus as a 96kHz / 24-bit lossless download.