Axe Calibre 2016
Filigree flamenco fantasies from an artist whose fluttering flurries of notes make one’s soul fly.
Spanish guitarist from England: this phrase may seem strange unless implications of playing a certain sort of instrument start seeping through one’s consciousness – but Mark Barnwell’s music will hardly leave the listener able to analyze such wordplay. If his album’s title suggests quiet observation, and the title track displays a multi-colored jazzy pattern for a lasting aftertaste, it doesn’t take more than opener “Tierra del Fuego” to realize how deceptive words can be when it comes to depicting what’s going on here.
Peppered with percussion and punctured by tender bass, Barnwell’s initially sparse threads weave in mesmeric motion to create an ever-shifting tapestry upon which fiery figures dance. Yet while the deeply detailed “Incendio” delivers a slow burn, and “Moroccan Skies” gets hot once cellos have dissolved in silver lining and left axes to clash and clang, the gypsy violins of “Potchka” drive them to sizzle and dazzle. The flow can be seductively meditative, as in “Surco Latino” wherein piano and sax add sultry tones to the mood, but since Mark is joined by six-strings-strutting friends on most of the pieces, this mood is largely festive.
Yes, “Sundance” finds Barnwell alone with his hollow-body Spanish señorita, spreading bright rays to lighten up the transparent elegy of “Moonstone” – yet “Endless Rain” and the 7-minute-plus “Sahara” offer a delicately solemn, almost baroque suite. “Mandala” may seem too strange a word to describe it all, then, although as far as one’s spirit is willing to go, it’s perfect – as is the album it’s attached to.