While listening to Mark Nyvlt’s music, it’s easy to picture the many places he’s visited around the world. For the Ottawa-based singer/songwriter, exploring different cultures has always provided endless inspiration, and on his latest album This ‘n’ That, Nyvlt thematically retraces some of his steps, along with acknowledging the various musical styles that, combined, define his distinct sound.
In broad terms, it’s a mix of folk and jazz, with some classical elements present as well that recall Nyvlt’s teenage musical training. But overall, This ‘n’ That offers an unpredictable sonic journey wherein a standard such as “La Vie En Rose” can sit comfortably next to a complex rhythmic excursion such as “Pandora’s Box.”
Nyvlt has always embraced a broad worldview as the son of a Czechoslovakian father and Egyptian mother. It’s led to his songwriting encompassing the essence of the stories he’s accumulated over the course of his travels, which he hopes convey some of the hope and wonder they’ve provided him.
In keeping with that notion, many of Nyvlt’s original songs on This ‘n’ That deal with some of the bigger questions all human beings are faced with from time to time. On “Dreams,” it’s the importance of having the ability to escape reality whenever it’s necessary to rejuvenate. On “Flipside”—inspired in part by Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness Of Being—it’s learning how to appreciate the positive surprises that can come during the course of any given day. And on “The Tree,” it’s about taking the long view and not getting bogged down in immediate ideological disputes.
For those who might think this isn’t the usual singer/songwriter fare, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Nyvlt is also Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy at Ottawa’s Dominican University College, a vocation he ultimately chose rather than pursuing a career as a classical musician. However, since picking up the guitar again in his thirties, Nyvlt has released three albums (This ‘n’ That is the fourth) that have demonstrated his renewed, open-minded approach to music.
Indeed, even though Nyvlt still admires the work of Bach, Mozart, Brahms and other masters, his sound now contains more echoes of Dylan, Lightfoot and Cohen, along the with the guitar stylings of Jerry Garcia and Dave Matthews. In fact, Nyvlt tips his hat to the former with This ‘n’ That’s version of Irving Berlin’s “Russian Lullaby,” a longtime Garcia favourite, as fans of his solo work can attest to.
As he did on his world travels, Mark Nyvlt doesn’t follow a map on This ‘n’ That. And by doing so, the end result adds up to a musical experience that appeals equally to the heart and mind.