Reviews

Review: Moving Day by Mark Wade Trio — vivid, sophisticated and engaging

On January 24, New York-based composer, bassist and educator Mark Wade has re-released his 2018 album Moving Day on the Norwegian label AMP Music and Records.

Featuring Tim Harrison on piano and Scott Neumann on drums, the trio’s second album revolves around the theme of movement in relation to change. The dynamic nature of life, with its implicit emotional transitions, is rendered through colorful, sophisticated compositions combining tight musicianship, a broad melodic range and expertly-timed rhythmic shifts that maintain an animated pace throughout. 

The album’s central theme is present in various shapes and forms in each of the nine songs. The title track reflects on the bittersweet feeling of a “moving day” as the musicians perfectly articulate the conflicting emotions associated with leaving one’s home and settling into another place. Wade’s bass starts off on a nostalgic note, its discernible hesitation soon dissipated by Harrison’s upbeat, encouraging crescendo that builds up a feeling of excitement and anticipation.

Inspired by a beautiful sunset, “In the Fading Rays of Sunlight” alternates between moments of pleasant drowsiness and euphoria while the groovy, playful “The Quarter” captures the increasingly festive atmosphere of the French Quarter in New Orleans as the day turns into night.

There’s an overall sense of urgency and commotion to the erratic “Wide Open”, centered around a lengthy bass solo whose purpose seems to be to consolidate the narrative direction of the song, mobilizing the errant instruments towards a coordinated, compelling finale. 

Two standards are arranged to keep in line with the dynamic theme. “Autumn Leaves” is infused with a dose of kinetic energy in the form of Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” while Dizzy’s “A Night in Tunisia” (re-titled “Another Night in Tunisia”) epitomizes the often times hectic, dizzying (pun intended) experience of traveling.

In “The Bells”, three distinct thematic sections are seamlessly woven together. The song starts with a melodic segment from Debussy’s “La Mer” that flows into a vivid depiction of the seaside on the backdrop of distant, discordant church bells. The song’s wavelike form, with each section withdrawing back into an amorphous expanse before rising again as a coherent structure, gives it a feeling of depth and permanence.  

One of the album’s consistent strengths is the musicians’ ability to tap into their respective instruments’ potential for conveying emotion. In “Something of a Romance” the band explores the initial stages of a developing love affair. Harrison’s piano starts off gently, seeming to gain confidence as the song progresses, as if to symbolize an increasing level of intimacy. There’s a certain vulnerability to Wade’s warm, graceful playing as well as Neumann’s  jittery percussion that brings to mind the familiar feeling of “butterflies” in the stomach.  

For me, the uncontested highlight is “Midnight in the Cathedral”, an intense, atmospheric tune wherein the composer imagines an empty cathedral at night haunted by the remnant impressions of all the music played inside throughout the years. Freed from the burden of perception, the ghostly notes swirl wildly around an epicenter formed of an ominous piano riff, filling the ethereal space with their enduring echoes. It’s one of the album’s darker moments, but it is also cathartic. For the musicians, it feels like a point of complete liberation in an otherwise carefully delineated journey.

It’s this thorough delineation itself that makes Moving Day such a fascinating listen. Everything is perfectly thought-out, from the changes in time-signature that keep the listener engaged, to the balance and symmetry in the musicians’ interplay. Here, I have to especially applaud pianist Tim Harrison, whose polished playing is subtle and eloquent, never monopolizing the narrative development, as can be the case in traditional piano trio records.

In Moving Day, the Mark Wade Trio delivers an excellent, technique-driven album that manages the difficult task of sounding, at once, complex and accessible. 

4 comments

  1. The only problem with this album that I have from your review is that after listening to it, it sounds like it shares all the same tropes, time signatures, tricks, patterns and movements with a lot of music that was previously recorded in the last decade or so. There is technical breadth to it, but somehow, there is no emergent, vibrant breath like it happens when Zorn throws his books at people while constraining them with a short timeframe to flesh it out.

    It’s a good record, and perhaps even pleasant to listen to, and I am not denying that. But you could hear all of it a decade ago, or so, in Glaspers’ Trio years ago, in Kait Dunton’s early recordings years ago; and if you had, after listening to this, your question would be: alright, so what? Or rather, is breathing recycled air and music that pleasant at all? And if yes, why is that acceptable?

    1. I understand your point. It’s something I’m thinking about a lot, especially when I’m put in the position of having to carefully select the records I review due to time constraints. However, I feel a bit differently about this. As a long-time reader (thank you!) you are, no doubt, familiar with my well-documented love of (almost) all things Zorn. The thing is that this visionary approach doesn’t (and couldn’t, due to its very nature) come along often. There is an abundance of music out there in more genres than I really think are necessary and only an infinitesimal amount of it will be something likely to cause a true paradigm shift.

      Zorn himself, as you pointed out, has influenced a plethora of followers who, even outside of Zorn’s projects, expand on and are influenced by his aesthetic and often times produce remarkable music. Yet that music itself will not be groundbreaking, as the path has already been cleared. It takes a special kind of vision to discover new terrain but I don’t feel it takes away from the work of those who further explore and cultivate that terrain. For the most part, music is a revelation of the never-ending layers of aesthetic potential. There are so many aspects to what makes great music and so many things for a listener (especially someone who, like me, is not a musician) to connect with.

      What I’ve connected with the most in Mark’s work is what I felt to be a strong thematic coherence and an intimate, candid approach. As a non-musician, I wouldn’t necessarily know how to explain that either. I don’t see it as recycled music at all but rather as something that grows organically from previously planted seeds (as is most often the case). I think it’s hazardous to view things as “acceptable/unacceptable” because it risks turning into an exclusive approach and reducing the experience of listening to music to little more than a ceaseless quest for something radically new or historically relevant. That invalidates some of the most important aspects of the art: connection and enjoyment. These qualities come in many forms.

      1. After re-reading how I worded my original comment, I suppose, I expressed my thoughts in a manner too strong. At least what you say about abundance is what definitely resonates with me, and perhaps that’s what I originally had in mind, although it turned out that I lacked elegance in conveying it, and for that I apologize. But it seems to me that your points about infinitesmalness and planted seeds are fair, and also hit the nail on the head of what I could spend some more time meditating (or perhaps re-listening!) about. Thank you for the reply and your work.

      2. No need to apologize at all. You make some valid, relevant points. We talk about music because we feel very strongly about it. 🙂 And there is a lot to be said. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts!

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