Mark Wingfield: Proof of Light
One of the more interesting details about American-born UK guitarist Mark Wingfield emerges in Anil Prasad's liner notes, specifically Wingfield's admission that a number of years ago he decided to stop listening to guitarists, ostensibly because after hearing another player's work he'd soon detect evidence of the guitarist's influence seeping into his own playing. Wingfield made a decision thereafter to listen only to other instruments as well as vocalists, and it appears that the latter in particular proved inspirational, with Wingfield studying how masters such as Betty Carter and K. D. Lang control pitch and tone.
What makes his comment particularly interesting is that, in spite of his conscious effort to shield himself from the influence of other guitarists, similarities nevertheless emerge on the fifty-four-minute Proof of Light between Wingfield and a few others, David Torn circa Cloud About Mercury first and foremost. Secondly, the comment proves revealing because it alludes to the vocal dimension that's so central to Wingfield's playing. His lines undulate melismatically much like a singer's, and the cry of his playing exudes an emotional immediacy characteristic of the human voice. Moments arise on the album when Wingfield's guitar playing exudes a vocal quality similar to that of Jeff Beck's in his cover of Stevie Wonder's “Cause We've Ended as Lovers” (Blow By Blow, 1975).
Wingfield brings a diverse background to the project. He's someone who grew up listening to jazz and rock artists such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Jimi Hendrix, but also Indian, Japanese, and African musics. Wingfield's playing is rich in vibrato and glissando, and though his instrument sometimes resembles a guitar-synth more than the standard electric, his playing is largely effects-free. And because his approach patterns itself after horn players and singers, he eschews chords and instead focuses on melody as doing so allows for melodic nuances and variations in tone, pitch, and sustain to be explored.
Recorded during two days in May of 2014, Wingfield's sixth solo album pairs the leader with the upright bass playing of Yaron Stavi (Robert Wyatt, Phil Manzanera) and drummer Asaf Sirkis (John Abercrombie, Larry Coryell) on nine instrumentals of varying moods and dynamics. On the sometimes foreboding opener “Mars Saffron,” the guitarist alternates between raw and lyrical episodes, and the fluid, synth-like quality of his playing is powerfully documented, though not for the last time. The album makes room for pieces of delicate comportment (“Summer Night's Story”) and others more fiery in temperament (the volcanic “Voltaic”).Stavi and Sirkis show themselves to be excellent co-horts who both follow the guitarist's lead with admirable sensitivity. They're anything but supporting players: Sirkis's playing is marked by invention throughout, and Stavi's warm pulse is always strongly felt in the mix (in addition to composing all of the material, Wingfield mixed, mastered, and produced the album). Unlike most recordings of this trio type, the bassist isn't accorded a single solo (or two); instead, Stavi's playing matches the guitarist's and drummer's in prominence. “A Conversation We Had” and “Koromo's Tale” offer particularly satisfying examples in that regard when Wingfield and Stavi voice the pieces' melodies in unison, while the guitarist and Sirkis pair up in similar dynamic manner during “Voltaic.” To state that Proof of Light will appeal to fans of progressive guitar playing is a dramatic understatement; it would be more correct to describe the album as an essential addition to any such fan's collection.