Edinburgh Festival Fringe music review: Mike Vass: In the Wake of Neil Gunn, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Jim Gilchrist.
Since its premiere last autumn, folk multi-instrumentalist Mike Vass’s imaginative suite, inspired by author Neil Gunn’s life-changing 1937 voyage round Scotland’s north-west seaboard in a less-than-reliable motor launch and informed by Vass’s own recovery from critical illness, has matured nicely, with its elements – band, electronic effects, commentary, background images – falling into place.
Vass, on tenor guitar, is accompanied by Innes Watson on acoustic guitar, Hamish Napier on flute and keyboards, Euan Burton on double and electric bass, Jennifer Port on oboe and a string quartet. That oboe is all-important in giving the suite its distinctive voice, sounding out the eloquent main theme over guitars before the strings start to surge.
Part of the government-supported Made In Scotland showcase, this is music that can run with the tide, as in the opening movement, Settled in Clay, or drift sublimely in Sphere Music or The Blue Fields of Paradise. Elsewhere it takes on a touch of Steve Reich minimalism in the repetitive guitar pizzicato of Heave and Roll, while the strings sing out nicely in Quiet Voices. Electronic samples shimmer throughout, evoking a nocturnal anchorage, a gale warning or, in one brief section, a Morse Code SOS which is taken up dramatically by the band. It may have been at least partly prompted by crisis, but Vass’s composition emerges as jubilant and life-affirming.
Acoustic Music Centre @ St Bride’s (Venue 123)
Published in The Scotsman on 22 August 2015
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