MVI (Mark Vickness Interconnected)

MVI – In the Rain Shadow

MVI is the modified acronym which represents the ‘collective ensemble’ on composer and guitarist Mark Vickness’ third and most recent album. MV is perhaps self-explanatory, whereas the ‘I’ is taken from his previous release, Interconnected, released in 2020. MVI (Mark Vickness Interconnected) not only solidifies the collective nature of the musicians who perform on the album, but reflects the global nature of the music and the interconnected world we inhabit.

Now as this is an album review, it seems like a fitting place to introduce the music of MVI. A particular favourite from the album is the jaunty Roadrunner. Opening with Mark Vickness, we are immediately introduced to his modern fingerstyle guitar technique which forms the basis for much of the music on the album. Pretty soon the band kick in – a great arrangement and an assured performance from the collective, with a wonderful rhythmical swing, full of melodic jazziness, along with great sax and violin breaks. What’s not to like…?

Backtracking slightly, I was delighted to see that Mark’s ‘new acoustic fusion group’ had been recalled for this latest release, which features Mads Tolling (violin), Joseph Hebert (cello), Dan Feiszli (bass) and tabla maestro Ty Burhoe. New for In the Rain Shadow is Matt Renzi (oboe, English horn & saxophone) and MB Gordy (percussion). Perhaps not household names, however all are seasoned performers and/or session musicians with impressive individual and collaborative résumés, as well as two Grammy Awardees…

As with all the music to arrive at TPA, it offers the opportunity to revisit previously reviewed albums in order to reacquaint and re-familiarise with the music. Not the case here as I doubt there is a week that goes by without Interconnected being part of my listening digest. A truly inspired album which took the top slot in my picks for 2020 and now ranks highly in my all-time favourites.

With such a glowing introduction, the burning question must surely be – how does this latest release fair? Very well, is the simple answer, and In the Rain Shadow feels like a natural progression, building on the foundations laid down on Mark Vickness’ debut, Places, released in 2017, and more pertinently Interconnected. Places had a common theme which took its inspiration from topography he had visited. Similarly, In the Rain Shadow is prompted by a change of environment, specifically his move “to the high desert (California’s Owens Valley)”. This is reflected not only in the music but also in the track titles, which reveal the geological or meteorological features experienced when living in a rain shadow.

Bringing all the elements together and capturing the spirit of the album is the title track. Mark Vickness on guitar, closely followed by Mads Tolling on violin, opens the piece and sets the mood. As with the previous album, I am once again struck by the beauty of the arrangements – encapsulated here with each of the instrumentalists announcing their arrival with little more than a gentle hello. But that ‘hello’ is warm and greeting – Joseph Hebert on cello beckons in the gathered players with a brief rhythmic introduction and soon we are in full swing. Matt Renzi’s oboe sits perfectly, adding an almost pastoral flavour. With Dan Feiszli on upright bass, Ty Burhoe on tablas and MB Gordy on gentle percussion, the mood is well and truly set. I am reminded here of that wonderful blend of West meets East that was so fundamental to Interconnected.

I have, however, skipped almost the entirety of the album as the title track actually closes proceedings. So… leaning more to the east, but staying with the West meets East theme, we have Rupak (for Ty), which, as Mark explains, employs “a seven beat rhythmic pattern used in classical Indian ragas”. Taking its title from the North Indian rupka taal (roopka taal) it is divided here into a 3+2+2 pattern. Like much of the music the warm and gentle delivery perhaps belies its depth of complexity. Here, there is a wonderful dichotomy with the reeds and strings lending a Western classical vibe, contrasted by Ty Burhoe’s raga rhythm, which he extends during his tabla solo, beckoning us eastward.

If we return briefly to Interconnected, a significant change on In the Rain Shadow is that there are no solo guitar pieces. These stunning tracks sat comfortably, alternating between the band compositions and offered a contrast which, in turn, gave a natural flow across the album. As mentioned earlier, In the Rain Shadow is very much a natural progression, and whilst the guitar remains ever-present, it is an equal partner in the MV(I)ntergrated ensemble sound.

Across the album, Mark Vickness’ modern, percussive finger-style guitar acts as the catalyst for the band, as we hear in Alluvial Fans. Initially taking a more contemporary ‘chamber orchestra’ route, this track epitomises the multi-faceted nature of MVI’s muse, with Matt Renzi on cor anglais (English horn) and Joseph Hebert on cello, soothing the way before the band pick up the intensity, again in that wholly professional, but unassuming manner.

Given the length of this review so far, and glancing at my comprehensive notes highlighting special moments within each of the tracks, I’m pondering how long this article will need to be to fit them all in. So here’s just a few insights, not already covered, from that list:

    High Desert – oh yes… great familial sound. West meets East. Oboe, that’s new. Love the bass…
    The Gorge – wah-wah violin, fantastic bass work again, electric guitar solo (that’s new – very sweet – like it), melody reminiscent of Hot Apple Stuff? Acoustic guitar – Michael Hedges…
    Cloud Shadows – peaceful, wonderful melody from the reeds, track becomes more urgent violin and reeds alternating with the melody…
    On the Cliffs of Mohr – wonderfully atmospheric Celtic opening, string drones, captivating string melodies on violin and cor anglais. Morphs into up-tempo type of ‘jig’…
    Still (for Will) – calming, graceful, tranquil with a sublime free-flowing rhythm…

…and the list really does go on (and on).

So, bringing this review to a conclusion, like its predecessor, Interconnected, the recording is pristine and the production values spot on, giving clarity and separation to all of instruments which are clearly defined within the mix. It’s an absolute joy to experience on headphones…

In the Rain Shadow brings together seven extraordinary instrumentalist who have created a fusion album in every sense. A global musical journey, seamlessly joining East and West in a unique and inspired fashion.

01. High Desert (4:35)
02. The Gorge (5:04)
03. Alluvial Fans (5:05)
04. Stillness (for Will) (5:02)
05. Roadrunner (4:52)
06. Rupak (for Ty) (3:34)
07. Cloud Shadows (5:24)
08. On the Cliffs of Mohr (4:42)
09. In the Rain Shadow (3:56)

Total Time – 44:14

Mark Vickness – Acoustic & Electric Guitars
Dan Feiszli – Upright & Electric Bass
Joseph Hebert – Cello
Mads Tolling – Violin
Matt Renzi – Oboe, English Horn, Saxophone
Ty Burhoe – Tablas
MB Gordy – Percussion

Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 17th May 2023

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