Two years in the making, Places was completed in August, 2017. This is a modern finger style solo acoustic guitar CD. The music on this CD is inspired by places I have been, but the personal journey was more about the process of delving into modern finger style guitar in writing and recording these pieces. Along the way, I enlisted the talents of my wife, Jennifer and my two children, Lucy and Will to make this a more family-inclusive project. Both Jennifer and Will contribute photos. Lucy offers one of her poems to accompany the arrangement of the gospel song, I Must Tell Jesus, that closes the CD.
Modern Finger Style Guitar
Modern finger style guitar is a genre that traces its roots back to a few early proponents, most notably Michael Hedges. The idea was to expand the musical vocabulary for the steel string acoustic guitar by employing percussive techniques, broader use of harmonics, unique tunings and better ways of amplifying the acoustic guitar to produce a richer, more layered, orchestral sound. That initial idea continues to motivate players to come up with new ways to push the envelope including the use of various effects and looping. The only rules I set for this CD was that all the pieces be played on a steel string acoustic guitar and that I be able to perform them live as a soloist. I only broke the rules a few times.
Let’s have a short lesson on the fingerstyle guitar method, shall we? Fingerstyle is the technique of playing the guitar by plucking the strings directly with the fingertips, fingernails, or picks attached to finger. There is a tremendous freedom in fingerstyle, as pretty much the whole guitar can be used. The musician can create harmonics by simultaneously picking or pulling the strings on both the body and the fret board, while using the body of the guitar in a percussive manner. Because of all the sounds being emitted from one guitar, there is a sense of depth and fullness in the music created.
Being witness to this technique is an amazing thing, as watching a musician create such sounds is a somewhat magical as well as breathtaking experience. Being privy to Bay Area string-masters Mark Vickness and Michael Manring, as well as Canadian guitarist Don Ross, sharing the stage for a superb and intimate night of fingerstyle playing at Berkeley’s historic Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, was truly wonderful.
Vickness, a phenomenal multi-instrumentalist, opened the night with his duo Glass House with singer and beatboxer Dave Worm (Bobby McFerrin), creating the feeling of a large band with only two men. Vickness plucked, banged, and strummed his guitar, wrapping the stunning vocals of Worm in a melodic blanket that soothed and inspired. With original compositions as well as a cover of Pink’s “Try,” the duo was mesmerizing.
Manring is a legend, playing fingerstyle with a bass instead of a guitar. Using loops, pedal effects, and his bass, he created wave after wave of sound that lingered and floated into space. There was a moment before he started where he silently paused, closed his eyes, and seemingly channeled the notes and chords as he began to play. He is a true magician of sound.
Ross is hilarious as well as talented; cracking jokes, telling stories and bantering, with the audience while covering songs from his most recent album A Million Brazilian Civilians. Ending the night, Ross brought back Manring, Worm, and Vickness (who played tabla for the last few songs) and a jaw-dropping, collaborative jam ensued, which showcased a wonderful cohesion and respect between all these incredible musicians.
Review of 4/10/19 concert at Freight & Salvage, Berkeley, CA
Carolyn McCoy, The Bay Bridged (http://thebaybridged.com/2019/04/15/review-photos-mark-vickness-michael-manring-don-ross-at-freight-salvage/)
Vickness' acoustic compositions allow him to use his wonderful technique to convey atmospheric, emotional music that immediately draws attention. His stunning harmonics, perfect chord changes, and ability to use the guitar as a percussion instrument are an amazing blend. For a favorite, check out "Prince William Sound" with its sliding double stops and gorgeous melody.
JH, Vintage Guitar Magazine
For those not in the know, Mark Vickness began his studies in classical piano at age just six and quickly soon thereafter broadened his musical horizons as much as possible.
A multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and composer with a huge musical range developed over years of study, recording and performance, Mark now also has a master’s degree in composition.
Indeed, Mark has written scores from simple pieces for piano and voice to large jazz ensembles to a concerto for North Indian Tabla, from large-scale ballets to documentary film scores.
Also one half of the acoustic fusion duo, Glass House (with singer/songwriter/vocal percussionist, David Worm), Mark's first solo modern finger style album, Places, was released this past September 15th, 2017 via his own label. Two years in the making it contains nine stunning compositions that will transport you anywhere you wish them to take you.
With each track at around five minutes in length, save for the Suite which clocks in at just under nine minutes itself, every composition on Places is strummed to absolute, infinite perfection.
Feeding his classical creativity here, Mark's work my be construed to naive passerby's as simple sounding, so to speak, but if you listen intently enough you can hear all the love, all the passion, all his pure, unadulterated dedication to his musical cause free flowing within each and every chord.
Anne Carlini, Six Degrees Entertainment (http://annecarlini.com/ex_cd.php?id=2422)
Inspired by rock gods such as Jimi Hendrix and studying with the likes of Mel Powell, guitarist/composer Mark Vickness uses powerful technique and sophisticated harmony to explore texture and mood on "Prince William Sound." Comparisons with a body of water aren't cliche: a pensive six-note motif flows in gradually, surfaces over a subtle ground pulse, then ripples and surges into cool harmonics, country twangs, fat single-note phrases, thick orchestral chords, and even a miniature "bass" solo, before fading away into brief distortion. Vickness plays on a rich and resonant baritone guitar well-suited to his sweeping phrases.
Vickness's work is primarily associated with modern fingerstyle guitar, which involves playing the instrument without a pick and opens up various musical effects (as well as technical challenges). Yet in the liner notes for this track's album Places (Self Produced, 2017), Vickness explains that his own focus ..."was on the compositions themselves rather than on any particular fingerstyle technique." Those priorities are clear on "Prince William Sound." As a soloist on his own material, Vickness approaches his work with curiosity and control; there are no ranging tempos or self-indulgent lingerings, just a confident musician curious about the possibilities of his tune and his instrument.
Andrew Sammut, All About Jazz, 2/17/19 (https://www.allaboutjazz.com/places-mark-vickness-self-produced-review-by-andrew-j-sammut.php)
"Easily one of the best acoustic albums I've heard all year. Vickness' skill is anything but ordinary. He makes his guitar sound like chimes, an old clock, a dulcimer and even a sitar."
Nik Havert, 7th Level Music, 10/15/17 (http://www.7thlevelmusic.com/?p=2546)
"A killer set for those looking for a set of pure music and killer playing, Vickness plays like it’s a calling and delights the hard core guitar fan with a ride of pure enjoyment. Killer stuff he makes sound all too easy."
Chris Spector, Midwest Record, 10/11/17 (http://www.midwestrecord.com/MWR1284.html)
"Without doubt the best recorded modern acoustic guitar record that I have heard."
Michael Greenfield, Greenfield Guitars
"Mark packs a lot of emotion and feeling into his all instrumental guitar-based masterpiece." (http://www.mwe3.com)
Robert Silverstein, mwe3.com
"It's the kind of record that makes weekend only pickers pack it up for good as you wonder how the hell does he do that. It's a master class in modern fingerstyle acoustic guitar . . . " (http://www.the-rocker.co.uk/)
The Rocker UK
Photography from Places
Thousand Islands Lake - Photo by Jennifer Flattery
Mark Jen Lucy Will
Wonder Lake - Photo by Will Flattery-Vickness