Mark and Marco play live at Benslow Music

Monday, 20 February, saw me travel to Hitchin in Herfordshire to hear New York bass player Mark Wade perform with Italian born, but now UK resident, pianist Marco Marconi in the Palmer Hall at Benslow Music. Before I talk about the concert I should like to thank Gayle (Marketing & Press) for the warm welcome and tea on arrival. I was then shown the Palmer Hall, an intimate performance space with wonderful acoustics where I joined the rest of the audience for the evening’s performance.

I last heard Mark and Marco back in 2020 when they played at the Prima Jazz Club, Southend, in a trio set up with the terrific on Emiliano Caroselli drums. Tonight’s performance would be as a duo playing three covers and the remainder of the programme of originals from both musicians. Once introductions had been made the duo launched into the instantly recognizable ‘Bernie’s Tune’ by Bernie Miller, a good choice for an opener played with energy and style.

The rest of the first set was made up of alternating original compositions starting with Mark’s ‘Closing Scene’. This tune did have a movie score feel to it, as the title might suggest, written in 32 bar ABBA form (I only know this because Mark told me during the interval). Marco’s ‘Blizzard’ came next and the opening bars certainly captured the energy of a blizzard (you can hear this on the Nordik album released in 2015).

This was followed by ‘Nostalgia’ from Marco’s New Roads album. This is one of Marco’s personal favourites of his own work and it easy to understand why. The reflective and emotional aspect of the tune pours out and Mark’s use of the bowed bass only added to the sentiment of the composition. This was a stunningly beautiful piece of writing palpable in the atmosphere it created in the hall. The first set came to a close with Mark’s homage to Wayne Shorter in ‘Slick’ with a terrific bass solo and perfect accompaniment from Marco.

The second set opened with Hammerstein and Kern’s ‘All The Things You Are’ which started like two friends coming together around a tune suggesting this is what should be played and then doing so with class. What was nice for me was seeing, not just hearing, how Marco responded to Mark’s bass, listening, watching and then selecting the interjections he would play to add colour to the bass lines.

‘F.M.P.O.V’, another from Marco’s New Roads album, had a very different feel to it in the duo setting (on the album the wonderful Max Ionata plays sax) but still sounded good with Marco’s vibrant playing. There was a very good bass break during this number and it was the only time during the evening that a solo was applauded. Mark’s ‘Short’ followed, very much bass led and a good example of how Mark uses all of the fingerboard to get the sound he is looking for (if his arms were long enough to reach below the bridge he would probably make good use the resulting sound).

The mid tempo waltz ‘Lonely Waltz’, another Mark Wade tune, came next. Beautifully played, this tune drew on the classical music training both Mark and Marco have been through as well as Mark’s admiration for the work of pianist Bill Evans. The evening ended with Duke Ellington’s ‘Caravan’. Marco introducing the tune with very dramatic left hand playing before the familiar melody came to the fore. I have no idea how many times I have heard this tune played live but these two musicians made it sound so fresh with some stunning improv work, particularly from Marco.

This was the most wonderful evening of jazz in a wonderful setting. I had the pleasure of talking to Mark a few times across the evening and hearing some of the ideas he has for future projects; how much he was looking forward to teaching while at Benslow; and the joy he expressed at teaming up again with Marco Marconi to play for a very appreciative audience. I drove home a very happy man and hope to return to Benslow when Marco Marconi plays solo on Monday, 29 May (details here).

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