Mark Wingfield is always recommended listening for fans of Jazz or Fusion guitar (among the names usually dropped you'll find Alan Holdsworth, Terje Rypdal, Pat Metheny). Nevertheless, this isn't just pure Jazz. I seem to hear more traces of progressive rock than in his other recordings, but probably that's just an early impression...
Favorite track: The Green-Faced Timekeepers.
With 2015’s Proof of Light, the forward-thinking British electric guitarist Mark Wingfield showed that he was following in the impressionistic footsteps of such adventurous six-string explorers as David Torn, Terje Rypdal, Adrian Belew, Steve Howe and Allan Holdsworth. That stunning release, his seventh overall and first for MoonJune Records, garnered critical raves from the music press. “Wingfield’s guitar playing is mysterious, majestic and blazing in turns,” wrote Guitar Player while All About Jazz crowed, “Wingfield makes his guitar howl, sing and cry for mercy amid flickering single note runs.” Improvijazzation Nation opined that “Mark’s guitar is going to take you to spaces you’ve never explored before” while Music That Matters simply called him a “six-string winged, improvising shaman.”
With Tales From The Dreaming City, the intrepid sonic innovator pushes the envelope even further in the company of his regular rhythm tandem of fretless bassist Yaron Stavi and powerhouse drummer Asaf Sirkis, who are both back from Proof of Light. Belgian keyboardist Dominique Vantomme plays melodies, provides extra textures, colors and exotic voicings and solos on four tracks on this hard-hitting offering, which carries elements of prog-rock, jazz and world music. “I wouldn't put it in any specific category” says Wingfield. “Most of the tracks on Tales From the Dreaming City are based firmly around a central melody and chord progression. To my ears, the melodic approach has something in common with the open lyricism of a lot of ECM jazz and harmonically it's somewhere between that and classical music. There are elements of rock, and with the classical influences I guess you could say it crosses over into progressive rock. But there's also a lot of improvisation going on.”
He also hesitates to call it ‘fusion.’ “I don't hear what I think of when most people say fusion," says the guitarist who lives in the countryside just 45 minutes outside of central London. “The chords progressions and voicings are completely different, the rhythms are different, the structures are different. The pieces on this album are more openly melodic than most fusion, and the sounds too are very different from what I've heard from that genre. Having said that, to my mind jazz has always been a fusion of styles ever since they started playing swing or bebop versions of popular show tunes. And it just continued to fuse with new influences from there. Sketches of Spain fused Spanish influences with jazz. Bitches Brew mixed various of elements and styles. Art Ensemble of Chicago mixed African and other influences with jazz. Or in more recent times, Jan Garbarek often uses synth textures fused with Norwegian folk melodies. The list goes on and on. Every era of jazz has evolved into something new, and more often than not that has been a fusion of styles and influences.”
Whether it’s the violin-sounding volume swells he affects on the evocative “At A Small Hour of the Night,” his screaming legato lines on “The Fifth Window,” his frantic picking on “I Wonder How Many Miles I’ve Fallen” or his uncommon lyricism on pieces like “Looking Back at the Amber Lit House” and “Sunlight Cafe,” Wingfield delivers with an abundance of facility and rare authority throughout Tales From the Dreaming City. His playing is no less stunning and expressive on “Ten Mile Bank” (featuring some absolutely wild fusillades at the tag), “This Place Up Against the Sky” (imbued with his signature whammy bar articulations), the up-tempo romp “The Way to Hemingford Grey” and the anthemic “A Wind Bows Down Turnpike Lane,” the latter a seeming tip of the cap to the late, great British guitar hero, Allan Holdsworth.
The guitar innovator explains that his latest outing is a distinct departure from his previous MoonJune release. “Whereas Proof of Light was a collection of tunes I had written at the time, Tales From the Dreaming City is more of a concept album. It’s a set of tunes which all share a common inspiration, an album of musical stories. For me, these stories are about a time or an event in someone's life, or a time shared by a group of people. The pieces are not about anyone in particular, they could be about many different people, real or imaginary. Similarly, there is no specific time frame, so some of the stories might be happening now, others might have happened a long time ago. The specifics may be different every time you listen or might remain the same and are bound to vary from listener to listener.”
While Wingfield continues to mine the richness of his ongoing encounters with guitarist Kevin Kastning (who specializes in the 36-string Double Contraguitar, 30-string Contra-Soprano guitar and 17-string Hybrid Extended Classical guitar), he explains that Tales From the Dreaming City is by nature coming from a radically different place than that intimate duet. “With completely improvised music like I do with Kevin, you never know what's going to happen next. The point in that setting is to make something together in the moment out of the ether. With music like Tales From the Dreaming City, on the other hand, the music is telling a specific musical story which I've composed. When we play this music, the point is to interpret it with the intention of telling those musical and emotional stories as best as possible. When it comes to the solos, that's an opportunity to expand on the story, to improvise something in the moment about the musical story that the composition is telling. With completely improvised music like I do with Kevin or as I did with Markus Reuter, Asaf and Yaron on The Stone House or Lighthouse, you have to react at every moment to every new thing which is happening. Whereas, with composed music when you improvise the solo, you know the chords you'll be playing over. So it's more about telling a story within those chords and about the feeling created by the composition.”
Of course, any talk of sonic exploration on the electric guitar must begin with Jimi Hendrix, who wrote a virtual manifesto on the subject with his riveting performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock on August 18, 1969 and added on to his sonic legacy with an onomatopoeic performance of “Machine Gun” the Fillmore East on New Year’s Eve, 1970. Wingfield acknowledges the towering influence of Hendrix on his own six-string explorations. “Jimi Hendrix was my first major influence, and interestingly he has remained a major one,” he told All About Jazz’s John McGuire. “For me, Hendrix's ‘Star Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock is one of the greatest works ever performed on electric guitar; it is utter sonic genius.”
The music press has been nearly as effusive in praise of Wingfield’s astounding virtuosity and unique voice. As Glenn Astarita opined in All About Jazz: “Akin to guitar heroes Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix, Wingfield makes his guitar howl, sing, and cry for mercy amid flickering single note runs.” Jeff Tamarkin wrote in Relix: “Wingfield and his bandmates are ridiculously gifted craftsmen, but also because they crave innovation and risk. You simply never know what sonic treat is around the next corner.” Rob Hudson from Australia’s Modmovemagazine added to the choir with: “His superb phrasing is just the start. It’s his choices in tone and the way his notes spill into unusual areas that make the biggest impression. They just coat your ear holes with gooey goodness — the chops of god. A unique voice, singular approach and defined sense of journey. This work takes you to places serene and stimulating.” But perhaps it was Jerry Gordon of Princeton, New Jersey radio station WPRB who really hit the nail on the head in his assessment: “Mark Wingfield’s music soars high above the subliminal, the terrestrial, the mundane, transporting us with his musical voyage. His guitar takes on the role of a vocalist or a horn – shimmering and sometimes bellowing with expression and imagery of profound beauty. Progressive innovative guitar at its finest!”
Wingfield explains that in developing his singular six-string vocabulary over time, he was indeed standing on the shoulders of giants who came before him. “When I was learning to play I was influenced by John McLaughlin, Allan Holdsworth, Pat Metheny, John Abercrombie, Terje Rypdal, Robert Fripp, Jimi Hendrix and others. But a long time ago I decided to stop listening to guitarists and start listening to other instruments instead. So John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Kenny Wheeler and other non-guitarists became my main influences along with various vocalists, in particular Indian classical singers and the Qawwali devotional singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.”
Regarding his own remarkable technique on the instrument, he adds, “Most of the unusual tones I get are from the way I play. I use a lot of unusual slurs, attacks, vibrato and pitch bends. I often don't play any notes in a normal way. And because I'm not using the expected phrasing and I'm concentrating on creating different tones with my fingers, it tends to sound like I'm using a really unusual guitar sound or a lot of effects, whereas in fact I'm not. My approach to phrasing and tone is something I've worked on for a long time and continue to work on. And the key to finding my sound was learning how to really let go when I played and then teaching my fingers how to create the sounds I was hearing in my head.”
Wingfield’s more lyrical, melodic approach to the guitar allows him to truly express what he feels in the music. “I have no interest in playing fast for the sake of it or using technique to impress,” he says. “For me technique is always in service of the music. I might play something fast but only if the feeling in the music demands it in that moment. For example, if the energy level of the music or the emotion at that point in the chord progression has built to such a degree that the only way to release it is through flurries of notes, then I’ll do that. Or if the music calls for a sudden build up of energy or intensity, I might play a fast series of notes to build up to that intensity. These fast passages are part of the natural flow of emotion in music and they happen from time to time, but they are never a constant. I tend to hear melodies a lot when I play because the feeling of the moment for me can often be best expressed as a melodic phrase rather than a riff or a run.”
You can hear that sense of melodicism and lyricism amidst the displays of fretboard flash on Wingfield's Tales From The Dreaming City, his most potent offering to date.
All compositions by Mark Wingfield, except "At a small hour of the night" by Wingfield/Stavi/Sirkis.
Executive production Leonardo Pavkovic for MoonJune Records and Mark Wingfield for Dark Energy Music.
Recorded by Jesus Rovira at La Casa Murada Studios, Banyeres del Penedés, Catalunya, Spain, on February 19 & 20, 2016. Mixed and mastered by Mark Wingfield at Heron Island Studio, Cambridgeshire, England.
Cover image by Jane Wingfield. Album artwork by Aleksander Popovic.
Photo of Mark Wingfield at Grey Manor by Storm Tree Productions. Studio photos of musicians by Xavier Parcerisas.
"Each track on this album tells a different emotional story, perhaps about a time or event in someone’s life, or moments shared by a group of people. They weave together specific moods and atmospheres which could connect to the experiences of many people both real and imaginary. I sometimes glimpse atmospheres of mystery and subtle magic in streets of 19th century buildings and old villages hidden in the countryside. So many different people's lives and experiences have filled these old places, past and present. I wanted to capture this in the texture of the music." - MARK WINGFIELD
"Since discovering genius guitarists Jimi Hendrix, Terje Rypdal and Allan Holdsworth, some decades ago, no other guitarist, old or young, known or unknown, shook my senses more than Mark Wingfield. His adventurous, pioneering guitar work transports listeners to destinations previously unreachable, he is among the instrument's most radically unconventional practitioners and its most forward-thinking tone architects. An innovative guitar impressionist who carries an unprecedented expansion of the electric guitar's sonic palette of sounds and expressions into further uncharted dimensions." - Leonardo Pavkovic, MoonJune Records
"Sounds spectacular!" - Alex Skolnick (guitarist of Testament)
"One of the new guitar heroes of the 21st Century, Mark Wingfield has already amassed a sizeable (and diverse) discography in the past decade. But it’s been his more recent work with MoonJune Records where he’s really opened up to show just how truly capable he is as a linear thinker, a sonic conceptualist and harmonic idealist, most notable in the all-improv contexts of 2017 Lighthouse (with Markus Reuter and Asaf Sirkis) and The Stone House (with Markus Reuter, Yaron Stavi and Asaf Sirkis). On his stellar 2016 trio date (with Yaron Stavi and Asaf Sirkis), Proof of Light, Wingfield also demonstrated his mettle as a composer and bandleader, creating memorable compositions that sound like nothing that’s been heard before, fusing elements of fusion and progressive rock with a surprising penchant for melodic ideation. With his new studio album Tales From The Dreaming City, Wingfield builds upon Proof of Light’s many successes and innovations with another trio date where his staggering technical acumen is on full display while, at the same time, always serving the music. The world needs more guitar heroes like Mark Wingfield. - John Kelman, All About Jazz
Mark Wingfield’s music soars high above the subliminal, the terrestrial, the mundane, transporting us with his musical voyage. His guitar takes on the role of a vocalist or a horn – shimmering and sometimes bellowing with expression and imagery of profound beauty. Progressive innovative guitar at its finest!” - Jerry Gordon, WPRB Radio, Princeton University
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Melt. This music just lets you let yourself be absorbed. Four gifted musicians work so smoothly together delivering this work, all you need do is relax and enjoy. There aren't words beyond that. Peter Jones