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.