Jazz is music so steeped in history that it often struggles to move away from its golden era heyday, the years where legends of the genre strutted their stuff, backed by more legends and playing in legendary clubs after releasing legendary albums. It’s a genre overshadowed by its history and modern bands can be bogged down by its past. But jazz is still relevant. It’s a constantly changing lady that has the power to allure and repel and, unlike lots of other musical genres, it is driven by those with musical knowledge rather than Instagram followers.
You won’t find a jazz musician falling out of a nightclub surrounded by models and class A drugs (more is the pity!), today’s musicians are studying theory, listening to those legends that came before and finding their own path.
The Mark Wade trio (named after the group’s bassist and arranger) is once again joined by pianist Tim Harrison and drummer Scott Neumann and the album dips its toes into the past but also has that ability to feel contemporary at the same time. It should appeal to fans of the Blue Note era but has enough going on to attract a younger audience wanting to understand jazz but perhaps put off by the Charlie Parker hard bop stereotype of the ‘more is more’ approach.
What we have here is nine tracks that draw inspiration from more than smoky basement clubs, it’s a wide-reaching album that, although accessible immediately, grows in strength over time.
One thing this group does well is produce catchy music. The group’s previous album, 2018’s Moving Day, had a title track that relied on a catchy ‘riff’ that stuck in your head for days, and it’s done again here on the opening track ‘I Feel More Like I Do Now’. It has the cool time signature that makes newcomers to the genre scratch their heads but it’s a strong opener and announces that the band has grown in confidence and skill.
I often find that three-piece bands – particularly those without a focal instrument like a trumpet or sax – stay too safe, too clean, but all three instruments are given space and time to show off what each can do. The production is spot on with the drums being slightly louder and more expressive than on ‘Moving Day’ but this allows the rhythm to really drive. Add the virtuoso playing of Wade’s bass and you’ve got a powerful rhythm section from which the piano of Harrison really flies.
‘The Soldier and the Fiddle’ is inspired by Stravinsky’s ‘The Soldier’s Tale’ and has that military marching rhythm to give a metronomic foundation for the players to shift and move around in. This is a theme of the album really, the inspiration of other genres, there is a Wayne Shorter nod in ‘Falling Delores’ and ‘In The Market’ and my favourite track being the Charles Mingus-influenced ‘Song With Orange and Other Things – Part 1 and 2’. Although written by Wade, part 1 could be the greatest tune Mingus didn’t compose! The intrusive bowing, the conflicting music, it’s pure Mingus chaos but only a student of the great man could have pulled it off (Part 2 is a cover of ‘Song With Orange’ that appears on the underrated album Mingus Dynasty).
I enjoyed the blues influence and, as a whole, the album is a cracker. Personally, I would love to hear this band experiment with having a guest horn player but as a trio the band are superb, there is clearly an understanding between the three of them and the music is becoming more intricate and expressive with each album. Brilliant.