There have been times in the last decade when it seemed as if there was a network of factories churning out identikit piano trios. Earnest expressions – check, clothes like ‘dress down Friday’ at the office – check, bloodless cover of a dull modern rock song – check… you would be forgiven for thinking that Messrs Meldhau, Svennson and their many imitators had exhausted all the creative possibilities of the format. The economics of touring a larger ensemble have contributed to this trend of course, but there is hope for those of us who enjoy the sense of space a good trio can bring. This month alone we have had the triumphant Blue Note debut of GoGo Penguin [All About Jazz review here: http://www.allaboutjazz.com/gogo-penguin-man-made-object-by-phil-barnes.php] and now the European release of the Mark Wade Trio’s “Event Horizon” via Berlin’s Edition 46 records [details at http://edition46.com/] .
This, Wade’s debut as leader after 20 years as performer and sideman, leans more to what we used to call “Third Stream” jazz that takes primary inspiration from classical music, in contrast to the way that GoGo Penguin co-opted the openness of modern electronica. Where Wade and his Trio excel is in the extraordinary sense of space and openness that they bring to their music. They first worked together when Wade was artist in residence at Flushing Town Hall connecting immediately. Scott Neumann on drums, whose CV includes work with Dave Liebman and Kenny Barron, is described by Wade as giving a “never-ending supply of ideas for everybody to play off of” something that you can hear on the collection’s killer track the appropriately named “Apogee”. Here Neumann’s excellent cymbal and percussion work leaves space for Tim Harrison’s piano and Wade’s bass to freely express themselves. There is a wonderful lightness of touch and openness about this track that holds the attention with atmosphere and melodic scintillas. Ballad “Cold Spring” pulls off the same trick in a more straight ahead context – Wade’s soulful bass is to the fore, and Harrison adds a certain tenderness and gentle melancholy with a thoughtful solo.
“Twist in the Wind” shows that the Trio can do muscular and rhythmic when the material demands it – driven here by more great drumming from Neumann and an earworm of a theme/riff from Harrison and Wade. “Tossed”, which I assume has none of the slang connotations in the US, is another great track settling into a walking piano solo that has some of the light, bright, spring day exuberance of say Prince’s “Strollin’” and makes me want to hear Smokey Robinson’s falsetto. The only incongruous note is struck by the cover of “If I Only Had a Brain”, the Scarecrow’s song from the Wizard of Oz, forgivably endearing self-deprecation that would raise a chuckle in the live set.
“Event Horizon” is an album of restrained, well played music with an inherent good taste that needs to be given a little time to reveal itself. In an overcrowded piano trio marketplace this may count against it commercially where it is harder than ever to stand out but it is worth sticking with. Self-confessed “science enthusiast” Wade describes the title as meaning “where you go from not being in a black hole to falling in… the edge at which something happens… I see it as an adventure, a stepping-off point”. As a description there is a certain duality about this – here’s hoping that the album will be more of a “point of departure” or launching pad for this talented trio rather than a commercial black hole into which they fall!
Photo Credits –
Album Cover by Kief Schladweiler,
Featured image by Jesse Winter.