Jazz bass out of lockdown

Bassist Mark Wade has gained international recognition with his trio and their 2015 debut recording Event Horizon and the 2018 follow up Moving Day (click here to read the SimplyJazzTalk review of that release). For his 2020 release, Songs From Isolation, Wade steps out on his own to present a unique solo project. The five selections included in this offering are comprised of music performed solely on the acoustic and electric bass with the addition of vocals on the final track Nothing Like You.

When I was first presented with this album it was accompanied by music videos, one per track. Wade produced the music and videos at home in New York City in Spring 2020 during the Covid-19 lockdown.

It is clear from the press release that Mark intended that the videos that accompany each song are an integral part of the project and new form of expression for the artist:

When we went on lockdown, I decided to dive into the process and learn some higher-level video techniques. The use of video became part of the process of interpreting the music itself. Growing up on MTV and music videos, he was always amazed at how his perception of a song changed from hearing it on the radio to seeing it on video. Video can help impart a certain feeling toward the music.

Mark Wade September 2020
Where it all started

Unfortunately, due to the high costs of producing and distributing a DVD of the album Blues from Isolation will only be available in CD format though the audio-visual presentation can be experienced via Mark’s website markwademusicny.com.

So, the question for this review is: does the album stand on its own musically?

For me, the answer is yes.

Songs From Isolation begins with Hours Til Dawn. The tune shifts between a straight-eighth feel and swing feel in 3/4. The melody is played with the unusual pairing of unison acoustic and electric bass in the upper register while Wade’s bowing provides a signature cello sound at key moments. Mark says of the tune, “To me, this song makes me think of the sensation of flying or floating though air”.

Intents and Purposes is less a traditional jazz form and more of a collection of four musical vignettes. In the opening vignette, electric bass harmonics and a poignant bowed bass solo create an ethereal mood. Wade improvises over four distinct areas, sometimes with the bow and sometimes with the more typical jazz fingerstyle sound.

The whimsically titled A Conspiracy of Lemurs features a deep funk groove and slick melody, pairing electric and acoustic bass. Wade trades solos with himself on both basses – in the video the viewer gets a close look at how the rhythm parts are created.

Blues in Isolation is an all-acoustic bass affair filmed early in the New York City lockdown. It features a heavier visual style paired with a slower, quirky groove over a blues form. Wade’s bowed bass interjects with backgrounds and melodies to help uplift this swinging offering.

In Nothing Like You, Wade is joined by his wife, vocalist Teri Leggio Wade, in paying tribute to the late Bob Dorough. They perform Gil Evans’ arrangement of the 1967 Miles Davis re-lease Sorcerer. This arrangement was always a favourite of Wade’s, and the fit for the set was obvious as Evans’ original version does not include piano. Teri Leggio Wade’s vocals channel Dorough’s panache on this short, quirky tune while Wade’s bowing fills in for the horn parts that frame the vocal line.

Bass player Mark Wade with wife and vocalist Teri Leggio Wade

The Covid-19 pandemic brought an end to live music around the globe and forced musicians to use technology to keep their creative juices flowing and continue to perform. While many musicians have taken to combining remotely recorded tracks to create a virtual “band,” Wade sought a different approach:

I thought this would be the time to try a solo bass project. It is something I always had in the back of my mind and wanted to try – but I never seemed to find the time for. It is a great challenge for any bass player to have to carry the whole show on their own. This project has been a great creative outlet for me at a time when there wasn’t much happening.

Mark Wade, September 2020

Songs From Isolation is a concise album that delivers five well written tracks that show how a good solo bass player can hold a listener’s attention across one album. The tunes are varied enough in style to maintain interest and while there is no doubt that the videos do add another dimension to the Songs From Isolation project, they do not, in their absence, detract from the quality or listening experience  of the album – that of course is only my subjective opinion.

Songs From Isolation is released on the AMP Music & Records label.

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