‘True Stories’ – Mark Wade Trio

Bass player and band leader Mark Wade releases his fourth album, True Stories, 11th March on his own record label, Mark Wade Music. I have reviewed previous albums by Mark and have always enjoyed his music so I was very interested when I heard that this album would be largely made up of contrafactual compositions. I have decided to use Mark’s own explanation of the eight tracks featured on the album with my own comments under each description.

Musicians: Tim Harrison – piano; Mark Wade – bass; Scott Neumann – drums.

Track 1. I Feel More Like I Do Now 6:21 (Mark Wade). This modern jazz piece in multiple time signatures was inspired by Miles Smiles, the first jazz album Mark ever bought. The melody is loosely inspired by Miles’s cover of ‘Freedom Jazz Dance’.

A driving pulse played by both drums and piano. Tim Harrison, when not adding his percussive playing to the rhythm, plays wonderful melodic lines. Mark Wade has a good improv section before the drums and piano move the tune on to its conclusion. A very strong opening number that sets the expectations bar high.

Track 2. Falling Delores 5:26 (Mark Wade/Wayne Shorter). This tune combines two Wayne Shorter tunes, written while he was part of the Miles Davis Quintet, with an original theme of Mark’s – listen for Shorter’s ‘Fall’ in 3/4 time. A series of modulations leads to Mark’s own original theme – a 10-measure jazz waltz. In the final theme, Mark rearranges Shorter’s ‘Delores’ to fit over the chords of his jazz waltz, played this time in 4/4.

Gentler in style than the album opener. Rhythmic variations are what make this track stand out. As can be seen from Mark’s description, this tune never settles on one cadence but does not come across as disjointed. An intriguing and thought-provoking track.

Track 3. The Soldier and the Fiddle 10:32 (Mark Wade). Although inspired by Igor Stravinsky‘s ‘The Soldier’s Tale’ this track doesn’t take specific melodic themes from Stravinsky but borrows his technique of supplying a steady march-like rhythm in the bass while other instruments move around it shifting meters. The effect is grounding and unsettling at the same time.

Mark’s description above is spot on, this number is both “grounding and unsettling”. The opening single notes from the bass have an air of foreboding that are only tempered by Harrison’s piano lines. Scott Neumann plays with washes of percussive sound beneath the piano and bass lines that is very effective. The musicianship on this tune is exceptional.

Track 4. In The Market 6:02 (Mark Wade/Joe Zawinul/Wayne Shorter). This is a mashup of themes from the iconic Weather Report album Black Market, especially those found in ‘Herandnu’ and ‘Black Market’. Stay with it through the twists and turns. Only at the song’s conclusion is the material presented briefly in its original form.

Great piano lines from Tim Harrison matched with equally impressive bass playing from Mark. Scott Neumann underpins all this with a variety of textural playing to match what is being played around him. The use of multiple themes, the variations of tone, pitch, and timbre make this an involving but coherent number that one can easily get lost in.

Track 5. Piscataway Went That-a-Way 6:41 (Mark Wade/Fred Hersch). This song expands the theme from Fred Hersch’s ‘Swamp Thing’, a quirky blues in D flat. Mark was driving on the highway while passing the exit for Piscataway, N.J. when ‘Swamp Thing’ came on the radio, and he named the tune in honour of that moment.

“A quirky blues in D flat” is a most apt description of this tune. It is at the same time insouciant and mildly swinging, but also, at times, menacing – that menace coming from the playing of Tim Harrison at the piano. In terms of the way this album is structured this tune is an edgy juxtaposition to what was heard on track five leaving the listener wondering what is to come from the next number: I like that.

Track 6. A Simple Song 6:16 (Mark Wade/Frank Kimbrough). Written in 4/4, this tune pays tribute to late pianist and composer Frank Kimbrough, Mark’s teacher at New York University. While at school, he often heard bands that Frank played in and his music remains a major influence. The piece is inspired by Frank’s ‘Eventualities’. Its sections of metered and unmetered statements were a hallmark in much of Frank’s music.

‘Simple Song’ opens with an uncomplicated sounding melody from which develops a sumptuous, many-layered composition where the lead flows between musicians giving each an opportunity to add their voice to this beautiful tune.

Tracks 7. Song with Orange & Other Things – Part 1 4:43 (Mark Wade) and Part 2 4:08 (Charles Mingus). This tune is composed in two parts. The first is an original composition of Mark’s meant to sound like something Mingus would have penned. The second part (Track 8) is a tune that Mingus did compose entitled ‘Song with Orange’.

This tune begins with Tim Harrison playing chord progressions over Mark Wade’s bowed bass before the piano line develops into something more lyrical. This really is a tune of two halves with the Mingus written piece emerging out of the shadow of Mark’s composition with a more up-beat bop trio sound.

Track 8. At The Sunside 6:27 (Mark Wade/Mikael Godee). This track takes the first few notes of ‘Solokvist’ from well-known Swedish jazz ensemble CORPO led by Mikael Godee. Mark shared a tour with CORPO in 2018 in Belgium and France and was particularly struck by this tune of theirs.

So, we reach the final track of True Stories and an exquisite ending it is too. Like so much of what has gone before it ‘At The Sunside’ is full of tonal variation, light and shade, and textured playing. There is an understated energy about this number provided by this tight-knit trio of very good musicians.

Having reviewed previous Mark Wade albums, I expected to hear well-played music – and I did. However, it is the strength of his own compositions that stand out on True Stories. I have had the pleasure of meeting Mark in person, and he struck me as one of those people who does not seek the limelight: a quietly confident musician and composer. On this album his music, in terms of its use of themes and arrangements, has certainly stepped forward into the light and should give Mark the confidence to explore his own voice further on future albums.

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