Long Island finger-style guitarist Mark Vickness’ first solo offering, Places, emerged in 2017. Featuring eight, self-penned, instrumental tunes, and inspired by the places he had visited over the years, turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable album and a perfect antidote for a ‘a bad day at the coalface’. So moving forward three years, and with his sophomore release in September 2020, could Interconnected offer a similar diversion to current world events? A big ask indeed.
As with Places, Mark’s guitar takes centre stage, however for Interconnected he has enlisted ‘a new acoustic fusion group’ featuring Mads Tolling (violin), Joseph Hebert (cello), Dan Feiszli (bass) and tabla maestro Ty Burhoe. With Grammy Awards and résumés which include live and recorded work with Stanley Clarke, Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana, Walter Becker, Jon Anderson, Chick Corea, and the list goes on… are there any further credit-checks necessary?
The haunting Interwoven not only introduces the album, but also to the acoustic ensemble. Warm and enticing, the listener is invited to enjoy the bucolic landscape created by sweet and alluring layers of interlacing strings and guitar. Suffice to say if the album continues in this fashion, it would more than live up to any expectation, however a minute and a half in, and Interwoven takes on a more menacing tone. The strings are more urgent and the melody slightly more melancholic. A subtle, but very effective change in temperament and something the ensemble continue to expand upon as the track unfolds. Imaginative mood swings take us on a journey of discovery, whereas the elegance of the music belies the complexity. With subtle nuances weaving in and out, it leaves you, well, if you’ll pardon the pun, interconnected. As opening statements go, this really is just… WOW!
If you clicked on the video, liked what you heard, then you probably don’t need to follow this review any further. Other than to be assured that the serenity of the title tune can found across the entire album, not only in the ensemble tracks, but also in those primarily performed by Mark Vickness on guitar.
Now, as one who primarily listens to music on headphones, I was immediately struck by the immersiveness of the solo pieces. So pristine are the recordings, you almost feel embodied within the guitar itself. Part of these intimate performances – where you are located inside the sound hole, surrounded by carefully selected and contoured tonewoods, all strategically designed and placed amongst a fabric of bracings. As the strings resonate, you can hear the finger nails on strings, the hand taps and mutes, and even those ever-so-slight rings from the frets.
Although an ensemble piece, all these vibrant textures can be found in the evocative, Celtic infused timbres of 6 in 7, with eBowed drones setting the scene, and augmented by bowed strings adding deeper hues and character. As the track unfolds, the tabla and bass guitar continue the trend adding definition, detail and pulse. Whilst listening to 6 in 7, I couldn’t help reflecting on the two recent Deep Energy Orchestra albums, albeit here performed in a more tranquil setting. As with DEO, there’s a global flavour to 6 in 7 and one that unites East and West music and cultures with consummate ease.
I’ve had this album for a couple of months now and I have to say Interconnected has proved to be one of those really difficult albums to finalise as a review. I’ve had the scribbled notes for weeks and I’ve played the album dozens of times. And therein lies the problem, halfway through the opening track, down goes notebook and up goes the volume…
Right, this review needs writing. Notebook back in hand!
Album sequencing is always crucial element, especially where there are ensemble tracks alternating between solo pieces. Not that it is an issue here, as the ‘other musicians’ have totally embraced the compositions and as a result the flow of the album never feels interrupted or disturbed. The exception here is the studio version of Hot Apple Stuff, which is an upbeat, lively, and, dare I say, a cheery number. Depending on your view point it either adds a lighter moment, or, as in my case, slightly disturbed the magical spell. This is a moot point and the fact that there’s both a studio and a live version on the album, suggests this a rather special tune for the band. And rightly so.
Right, best also qualify the ‘other musicians’ remark, as we are talking top drawer musicians here and their collective contribution to Interconnected is immeasurable and paramount. In fact the above mentioned Hot Apple Stuff is a prime example.
You know, sometimes the best and easiest way to convey how great these guys are, is the most obvious – just let the music and the musicians say it for you. So returning to 6 in 7
I rest my case…
A stunning track from a stunning album.
The album concludes with the beguiling One Day Over A Thousand, a deeply intimate piece for Mark, as it was written at the time of personal loss. Dedicated to his close friend, but also all those who lost their lives to Covid-19. A suitably fitting place to conclude this review.
Mark Vickness is to be lauded, not only for his excellent compositions, but also his vision in bringing together those musicians who have understood and so skilfully performed the music on Interconnected. An album of elegance and beauty!
So on a final note and to answer the question posed in paragraph one. Can Interconnected offer solace in these dark times? Undoubtedly!
01. Interwoven (5:29)
02. Grey Skye (4:28)
03. Hot Apple Stuff (5:24)
04. Bodega Blue (3:47)
05. 6 in 7 (6:33)
06. Mia Lucia (5:03)
07. For Every Child (3:57)
08. Hot Apple Stuff (Live) (5:14)
09. One Day Over A Thousand (3:58)
Total Time – 42:53
Mark Vickness – Guitar
Dan Feiszli – Upright & Electric Bass
Joseph Hebert – Cello
Mads Tolling – Violin
Ty Burhoe – Tablas
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 15th September 2020