MIKE VASS – Decemberwell Decade (UR007CD)

Decemberwell DecadeMusician, composer, producer – where do you start to describe the work of Mike Vass? How about the first line on his webpage, “Mike Vass is one of the most creative forces on the Scottish music scene” – both concise and accurate and I won’t attempt to beat it. Vass released Decemberwell Decade on November 18th and it’s a splendid musical journey through a cold winter month.

A little background, though, on the complex title. In the bad winter of 2011 Vass created Decemberwell composing and playing a multi-layered album in his home studio. He set himself the challenge, “to spend December writing and recording some Scottish winter-themed music and record a daily video of the whole process”. The result was Decemberwell, released in 2012.

As the tenth anniversary arrived, Mike decided to create a totally new album of winter-inspired work and spent December 2021 doing this. The result is Decemberwell Decade. There’s a twist, though. Instead of playing every note himself, as he had ten years before, Vass decided to invite ten guest musicians into the studio to interpret and perform his work.

They’re a cracking bunch and, in these circumstances, all deserve an alphabetical mention: Louis Abbot (drums), Philip Cardwell (trumpet), David Foley (flute), Donald Grant (violin), Signy Jakobsdottir (percussion), Kathleen MacInnes and Mairi MacLennan (Gaelic singers, who provide two songs alongside the eight instrumentals), Sorren MacLean (guitars), Joseph Peach (Piano and accordion) and Emma Smith (double bass).

This really is a glorious album – both musically and in its invocation of December. Instrumental music is notoriously difficult to give a feel of, so below are a few jottings I made as I was listening and drawing myself into the mood:

  • violins plucked like spasmodic raindrops falling in water,
  • slow saxophone like the gentle murkiness of a misty day,
  • percussion tapping like distant animal hooves on a limestone track,
  • the sound of distant bird calls in the mountain played on a haunting violin,
  • the flowing of water down a stream in the cascade of piano keys
  • the rising tempo of a glorious winter’s day as the sun comes out, finger picked guitar repeating the rhythms of your breath as it catches in sheer joy at the point you make it to the top of a hill on clear day and see the world around you,

The two songs on the album are splendid performances by “stand-out songstresses” Mairi MacLennan halfway through on ‘Siud Mar Chuir Mi N Geamhradh Tharam’ (That’s How I Spent My Winter) and, as befits a winter album, Kathleen MacInnes rounding the album off with ‘Ciuin An Oidhch’ (Silent Night).

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website:  https://www.mikevass.com

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