Intimate and intuitive, little instrumental ensemble push the envelope beyond light and shade and shape penumbral numbers in the English way.
Neither Mark Wingfield nor Gary Husband is a stranger to a duo setting, the former regularly releasing records with Kevin Kastning and the latter having issued an album with Alex Machacek a few years ago, but now the pair of auteurs have found a new way to shed their personal approach on common canvas. The words that emblazon their joint effort may suggest highs and lows or soft meadows and hard rocks, yet textures and spaces the duo conjure up defy expectations, as Wingfield applies a wide-reaching variety of guitar tones to his ever-shifting tunes and Husband splashes unexpected keyboard melodies onto it all.
Despite their limited palette, the aural picture of “Tor & Vale” doesn’t feel minimalistic for it’s emotionally loaded at any given moment, from “Kittiwake” – where Mark’s bluesy wail lets Gary’s ivories stumble from march to tango and project percussive jive on the fretboard, elegy bristling with effervescence and carefully diffusing the charge for the two motifs to gel – to “Vaquita” which will suffocate the initial flight only to see the artists spread their wings again and glide back to the album’s onset. Without relying on many an effect – although the licks of “Shape Of Light” embrace a flute-like set of frequencies and the piano amplifies the piece’s flawed serenity – they create something that goes beyond the obvious instrumental spectrum.
While the title track’s epic panorama can tempt less experienced composers to turn telepathy into symphonic tapestry and banish spontaneity in favor of cerebral reflection, Husband and Wingfield keep the proceedings’ development reined in and, thus, accumulate the music’s visceral impact which allow dynamic ebb and flow – quite intense in places – to build a separate presence of a non-spectral nature. If “The Golden Thread” has playful air about it, there’s also melancholic jazz lurking in plain sight and swelling in the sparse soundscape, this dance of strings and hammers, to result in a progressively cosmic meandering of a volume-controlled matter towards call-and-response.
Such a simmer is simply irresistible, so “Night Song” – a true nocturne, occasionally treading old-time sentimentality – must serve as a well-tempered release for the preceding cuts which may seem menacing when a hint of dissonance is flown in but are, in fact, rather pacifying. Except for the slightly rocking “Tryfan” whose elegant vigor is defined by the duo’s improvisational drive, as opposed to most of the cuts here which Wingfield penned and presented to Husband, yet “Silver Sky” offers a different, classically-inspired sort of solemn fantasy.
Opening a fresh vista upon each spin, “Tor & Vale” is a magnificent triumph of understated wonder.