Jazz Never Sounded So (Consciously, Ennobly) Inspired
Mingus, Shorter, Stravinsky, Miles… Mark Wade Trio’s spacious skies expand the distance between then and now in ‘True Stories’
“This album is a fusion of the music of some of my biggest influences and my own personal statements. The music of such jazz giants as Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, and Joe Zawinul have always loomed large in my consciousness, so it’s no surprise that I would turn to them for a new way forward. I hope you enjoy listening to the music as much as Tim, Scott and I enjoyed making it.”
Classical-jazz bassist Mark Wade’s fourth album with pianist Tim Harrison and drummer Scott Neumann deviates slightly from the sweeping romantic classicism and straight-ahead, depth-defying banter of prior releases in ways that’s hard to explain.
Inspired by some of Wade’s musically rich, rhythmically complicated heroes (Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Charles Mingus) who really freed jazz from the pop confines of their times, the nine True Stories definitely swing in the bassist’s own soft, gently renumerating favor.
“I Feel More Like I Do Now” in multiple time signatures, a rolling ball of old-fashioned, barn-burner blues and be-bop religion — hence, the pause-and-effect of a topsy-turvy carnival ride — holds the late trumpeter Miles Davis in very high esteem, tightening and honing the musical belt from the original into a time capsule distillation of the spirit of his “Freedom Jazz Dance” cover.
It’s intentionally nothing like the original on the surface, and yet, it’s distantly, undeniably related — as if Wade’s trio condensed the very undercarriage of the piece, then sped it up to an actual foot-tapping, rip-roaring jazz-blues dance. Harrison expertly drops his melodic bar at the very end of his repeat stanzas in dramatic fashion, giving the track a little more pliable oomph. He knows what he’s doing.
“Falling Delores” comes from two Wayne Shorter cuts, from when he played with Davis’s quintet — “Fall” in ¾ and “Dolores,” rearranged in 4/4. Wade connects the two with a 10-measure jazz waltz theme. But make no mistake, this is Wade’s tune, truncated, intensified, and emboldened with dramatic shifts, contained, magnified solos, and a strange, elongated musicality that was never in any of Miles Davis’ records.
The strangest track off the album, “The Soldier and the Fiddle” borrows the march from Igor Stravinsky’s classical “Soldier’s Tale,” and expands from there. Wade takes on the metronome beat, veering from the grounding set-up to do his own restless sleuthing, while Harrison flies — at times, unsteady, threatening to hit the wrong chord in the right way.
At one point, the bass and piano seem to flail at a disintegrating musical orbit, responding to each other in intermittent pulse points, like sonic static electricity…trying to make their respective impressions, as the rhythm quickens and the march is forgotten…the best part of this instrumental.
Beautiful and odd, pleasant and rebellious, traditional and modern would all describe “In the Market,” a scavenging medley of Wade’s ringing larkspur interpretation, Austrian keyboardist Joe Zawinul’s flirtatious, infectious maneuvers, and saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s catch-as-catch-can tendencies — a true bedrock synthesis of an original, from Weather Report’s Black Market album.
Once again, Wade’s trio condenses, aerates, and lifts the exploratory expanse of this oddly rhythmic, free-form, electronic jazz ensemble’s two quirky, but lovable tunes, “Herandnu” and “Black Market,” blanketing both in warm, velvety sunshine. Wade’s own musical theme bounces along, bursting at the seams — piano sparking purpose and swagger, drums procuring a scintillating, but controlled madness, bass shadowing both in polished, incremental swaths.
When Wade solos, it is neither rote nor barbaric, but always mandatory listening, almost virginal, his manic precision exuding classical absolution and heightened jazz voluptuousness…the reason he’s the man at Downbeat Magazine (five-time “Top Bassist,” annual Reader’s Poll).
Harrison returns to the main theme of the original with a backhanded, cheeky flourish.
You can almost see Wade driving past the Piscataway, N.J. exit, nodding, smiling, and tapping his steering wheel to Fred Hersch’s upbeat “Swamp Thing” on the radio. “Piscataway Went That-a-Way” is the long, drawn-out bluesy D-flat result…a dangling percussive participle gathered in a honky-tonk piano refrain, poking, prodding, and meter-changing, playful fun.
“A Simple Song” vigorously grows where it stands, out of nowhere, no preamble, just right into the heart of the piano-centered piece, in 4/4, dedicated to Wade’s NYU teacher, the late piano composer Frank Kimbrough and his composition, “Eventualities.”
Billowy piano-and-bass wondrousness calls to mind all of those Charlie Brown Christmas specials, when snow provided the stark, poetically contrasting backdrop to Charles Schultz’s rib-tickling, slapstick comics.
“The tune’s sections of metered and unmetered statements were a hallmark in much of Frank’s music.”
Not so simple, after all.
“Song with Orange & Other Things, Part 1” just comes at you, a sci-fi-laser-firing attack, which subsides and eases into a settling, rustling setting sun of a stream of classical-jazz consciousness — the mind meld Wade does so well, with broad hints of melancholy, nostalgia, and sweet, sorrowful parting. All Wade, on a Mingus high.
“Part 2,” slapped on the other side of this eight-and-a-half-minute suite, is all Mingus, with Wade’s polished flourishes, and beckoning, beatific calls, fringe and repeat ministries swaddled in a hefty economy of thought and luxury of feeling. You can hear remnants of the great double-bassist’s greatest, most recognizable, oft-covered hit (“Song with Orange”) — sleekly lingering, released with care and reverence by Wade and Harrison.
Fans of Mikael Godée’s Swedish jazz ensemble CORPO, like Wade, will recognize the first notes of “Solokvist” in the final track, “At the Sunside.” Spritely, with vision, played in a bold, frontal assault — lip-smacking drum/piano/bass solos over a romantically impaired retro-‘80s soundtrack — with contrarian flair, and birthed from the time Wade toured with the group in 2018.
Mark Wade’s True Stories is not a romanticized album to swoon and dream over. It’s more a tempting, tantalizing vehicle with which to memorialize jazz inventors, thinkers, and entertainers, and applaud the next generation, extracting their own marvelous miracles of technique, feel, and the creative connection between the head and the heart, the past and the present, with an ear toward the grand design, the pendulum beyond.
Quotes from liner notes written by Sammy Stein.