New and Improv'd

Reggae is only the beginning

Walk into Trax on a Monday night, as I did recently to grab a beer, and you'll run into a strange amalgamation of sonic styles emanating from the outdoor stage in the back, courtesy of the Dave Wade Trio.

I saw the Dave Wade Trio accidentally the first time, and I was intrigued by the live show that Wade (the bass player and vocalist), along with guitarist Charles Bond and drummer Jamal Baker, put on. The band switches genres, time signatures, and grooves several times within a single song.

On my first encounter, I was impressed with the avant-garde mix of jazzy riffs, reggae grooves, funk and rock that the trio kicks out. Live, it's improvisational and unpredictable. But when I got my hands on the Dave Wade Trio's upcoming full-length CD, due out in the next couple of weeks, I understood it less. On the album, the songs are all three to four minutes long, and that length doesn't seem to give the songs the room they need to encompass the bouillabaisse of styles the trio plays.

The Dave Wade Trio: Sonic switch-hitters.
Laura Segall
The Dave Wade Trio: Sonic switch-hitters.

The music is unquestionably intellectual — these guys are incredibly accomplished musicians, and they've all been playing in the Valley for years. Wade did time in a series of reggae and pop bands including the Rasta Farmers, Strictly Business, and Curious Walk. Even the Dave Wade Trio has been through a series of permutations — Upskirts (my favorite name), Spill, Sub Dub, and the Dreadmores — before settling on the eponymous moniker. And Charles Bond is one of the 'Nix's most accomplished guitarists; he's played with more acts than there's room to name in this paper.

When I'm having drinks with Wade and Bond on a recent weekday evening, they tell me that my understanding of what they're attempting — the blender-full of genres and time changes — is dead-on. "All of it's fusion," Wade says. "We change genres really quickly. It depends on the subject matter of the lyrics. I'll try to make that song sound like what the subject matter's speaking about. If it's Jack Nicholson's hookers (as on 'Jack Smack'), the music struts like a hooker down the street. If it's a song that involves oppression, war, anything like that, it usually goes in kind of a reggae-ish vein. The melancholy stuff takes on that kind of feel. But it all changes depending on the subject matter.

"It's not something where we pick a sound and duplicate that style for an entire record, 'cause I don't have that kind of attention span that I can do something that consistent," Wade continues. "Zappa is my main influence — it's not so much about the genre, it's about what it's actually about, trying to pull off that idea. That's the only continuity."

He's got that right, as far as continuity goes. On the album, the songs transition from the reggae jam "Liar's War" to the funky, jazzy "Homeless," then the more rock-inspired and bluesy "Hookbabe." When the band plays live, the genre blending and timing changes are obviously there, but they're not as awkward.

Wade makes a good point when he tells me, "The music is challenging; you have to cover the globe to play this material. That's why there aren't a whole lot of people who can pull this stuff off, to change on a dime, and have that versatility."

"I can't stand to be pigeonholed into one style of music," Wade says. "It probably loses some of the commercial appeal because of that, but I would rather be creative with my subject matter and do something different. When I do a record, there's gonna be something on there for everybody."

There are songs on the record that I dig, like "Too Slow" — where Bond gets wild with his guitar solos, while the rhythm builds and pulses — and the opener, "Flick the Switch," where Wade sings, "Shit, I didn't even kiss that bitch," over a bass line that goes from happy-go-lucky to authoritative at the chorus.

That particular line has caught the trio some shit, though. "This evening I was alerted that some of our material might be offensive to women," Wade tells me. "But that line could even be about abstinence if you choose to look at it that way."

"Some men go out and look for hookers for the fun of it," Bond interjects. "On daytime television, a hooker will say, 'Kissing is too intimate.' So, no, you never kiss the bitch. She's a hooker."

That's one of the Dave Wade Trio's assets — the band writes socially conscious songs about war and homelessness, but there are also fun, sometimes silly songs to break up the seriousness.

The band's been playing at Trax on Mondays for just a couple of months now, holding down the entire evening themselves. "They hired us under the guise that we're a reggae band," Wade tells me. "We come in, play some reggae — we could play Marley all night long if we felt like it. We use that to our advantage. As our people start coming in, they start to appreciate what we actually do, which is a complete detour from reggae. I don't think any of us would be happy playing for 45 minutes and making 20 bucks."

When I listen to the trio's record, I wish the songs had the time to spread out like they do when the band plays them onstage. Studio recording is obviously a different format, with different restrictions, and Wade tells me he wanted the album's songs to stick to a three-minute pop format.

"There's no jam-band mentality when we're in the studio. Three minutes — it gets to the hook, gets in and gets out, and it's over with," Wade says. "When we play live, it's hard to tell. If people get up and dance, we'll extend it to 10 minutes if we feel like it."

I prefer the 10-minute versions.

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