Mike Vass – Four Pillars

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

This is an album by Mike Vass composer and musician. The Four Pieces is a suite of tunes composed for The Scots Fiddle Festival of 2018. Mike was commissioned to write music on the four major Scottish fiddle tune types, the air, the march, the strathspey and the reel. Four fiddlers play a piece each with Mike playing the march. So this is an album of Mike Vass composer first and performer second. There is something cinematic and emotional about the solo fiddle and Lauren MacColl’s opening to “Air” is definitely that. Solo on the first tune of the set ‘After Years’ or accompanied by a minimal piano and tonal vibraphone this is visceral stuff. Both the first tune and “The Ancient Day” the second piece, featuring a string quartet are transparent and shimmering like the very air itself. The “March” set opens with “A Handful of Dust” played by Vass, while still stirring, as the set type suggests there is more of a pulse or rhythm. The use of loop to swirl the fiddles around us in shifting crossing arcs is just beautiful. “From Regions Far Apart”, second tune of the set has Mike’s ebbing and flowing fiddle over Tom Gibb’s atmospheric icy piano and that fine String Quartet.

Their music manages to have the Folk swing and pulse with stately grace and a little of minimalism’s water drops pulse care of Iain Sandilands’ Vibraphone. Iain’s playing is more forward in the mix and Modern Jazz Quartet jazzy in Patsy Reid’s Strathspey Set. Reid’s fiddle burrs and growls on Vass’ “Thrown Away” duetting with disquieting Vibraphone notes. “Torrent of a Thing” has a little of the earlier swirl and loop and wonderful string swells. It’s Mike Vass’ music, but the character of the different fiddle players comes through and again there is a film music quality. Jenna Reid plays the final Reels. “Frenzy in the Coda” is aptly named, Reid’s fiddle ducks dives and swoops while the other musician dance around in a Steve Reich like pattern. “Under These Notes” is quieter contemplation with beauty in the air and space between the notes and String Quarters measured stately accompaniment. Tom Gibb’s piano comes in with an infectious and beautifully folky spring in its step, surprising us to the end.

Players gathered, the pieces were recorded in a single day at Castlesound studios, a further level of complexity and challenge. If there was pressure it hasn’t transferred to the music, the four sets, nine tunes are as chilled and limpid as Jazz’s KIND OF BLUE, there is that same sense of time hanging or speeding as the music needs it to, creating perfect moments of mood music. This sits between genres and different people will hear Classical, Folk and even touches of Third Stream or Cool Jazz. Or is it that the four Pillars underpin some many different types of music They are all there to be heard.