Songs From Isolation – Mark Wade (reviewed by T. Bebedor)

Those that follow jazz will be aware of New York double bassist Mark Wade, they may have an album or two from his acclaimed trio in their collection, but for those who aren’t familiar with his work, Mark Wade is a double bassist who sits alongside the modern great players such as Christian McBride, Avishai Cohen and Esperanza Spalding.

It could be said that a five-track solo album consisting of an exploration of the bass might only appeal to a narrow audience – one made up of bass players – but if that is the case, a whole flock of people will be missing out on something that is not only rather special but could also become a point of reference for any aspiring bassists looking for inspiration in composition and what the double bass is capable of.

I think it’s true to say that Wade has expanded what the bass is truly capable of, but he’s done it in such a way that it is still enjoyable for the listener. The songs are well-structured pieces that hold up under scrutiny, the pillars of music are there; rhythm, tempo, melody, and it doesn’t ever feel like a project formed from ego. Opening track ‘Hours Til Dawn’ introduces the audience to the upper reaches of the instrument with clever fingering over a deep, solid groove, the music switches in and out of a ¾ time to add interest and is a cracking opener. 

It then shifts gear to ‘Intents and Purposes’ with it’s harmonic intro and patient build up leaving more space than most musicians would dare, but there is something about the music that keeps you interested, where will it go next? The song feels like a movie soundtrack where the missing pieces are played out visually on screen (it’s no surprise that this album is also a visual piece made up of five videos) before we sit on a lazy groove while the bass is allowed to explore.

My standout track must be ‘A Conspiracy of Lemurs’, there is a complex twisting and turning of who and what sound is taking the solo. Wade employs an electric bass here, but the tone is such that it doesn’t feel intrusive, it just sits in the composition and alternates between solo and support. 

The final two songs are ‘Blues in Isolation’ and ‘Nothing Like You’ and they continue the overall of the album perfectly, the bass has always sounded at home in the genre of blues, there is something about the frequency that lends itself so perfectly and is a masterclass in how to construct solos over a blues shape. ‘Nothing Like You’ brings Wade’s wife, jazz vocalist Teri Leggio Wade, to the mic. It’s a whimsical tune to end the album on and well-placed as it, again, shows the bass in a different light, a more traditional setting but the arrangement is quirky and interesting. 

This is one of those albums that will find an audience with a certain few people, but it deserves more, if you like jazz but are caught up in the stereotype of smoky clubs and pompous ‘cats’ wearing berets and sunglasses, think again because the world of jazz continues to move and there are great musicians out there, Mark Wade is one of them, take a listen to his trio’s 2018 album ‘Moving Day’, which is a fine example of modern jazz. But listen to this first – on something with good speakers because those highs and lows give any stereo a good workout!

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