Pick any of his solos on the session and it is impossible to say one is better than another…
Resteamed Records RSJ 117
Stan Tracey (piano); Kenny Wheeler (trumpet & flugelhorn); Bobby Wellins (tenor saxophone); Jeff Clyne (bass); Jackie Dougan (drums)
Recorded 15-18 March 1966
And just when you think you know how the music goes, we are presented with a recording of ‘Under Milk Wood’ that questions everything that was so comforting and familiar about the original album.
Stan Tracey’s 1965 quartet recording is one of the great milestones in British jazz, and perhaps more than any other album documents the coming of age for the UK jazz in producing music that is totally original and not derivative of the American model.
So, with the original quartet album being held in such high acclaim what should we make of this newly unearthed version? Well, to be honest after multiple hearings the conclusion can only be that is it an extremely welcome release, and a worthy addition for anyone who owns and cherishes the original.
Recorded as part of the Jazz Workshop programme for Norddeutscher Rundfunk in Hamburg, Tracey took the opportunity to expand the quartet with the addition of Kenny Wheeler on trumpet and flugelhorn. The two musicians who know made up the frontline knew each well having played together in the band of baritone saxophonist Buddy Featherstonhaugh in the mid-fifties. The kinship they developed during this time would prove enduring and Wellins and Wheeler make a formidable partnership.
From the opening ‘Cockle Row’ the quintet is on fire, and the frontline horns fit together like hand in glove. Wellins solos first and one is immediately falling in love with his tenor sound within just a few notes. His phrasing is utterly distinctive, and it is difficult to think of anyone other than Kenny Wheeler who fit in so well with the saxophonist. In his own solos, here and on the remainder of the session, Wheeler is as economical with his use of notes, crafting his lines masterfully.
Bobby Wellins is featured as the sole horn on ‘Starless and Bible Black’ and on this wonderfully dark and foreboding ballad he is playing is flawless. Is there anyone else who can say so much with so few notes, and with such a hauntingly beautiful and utterly unique sound? His tone on the tenor saxophone lingers long after the final notes from his horn decay, sending shivers down the spine.
Tracey’s own playing is spectacular throughout. He always acknowledged a huge debt to Duke Ellington as an influence, but here his playing marks him out as a unique and original voice in his own right.
Pick any of his solos on the session and it is impossible to say one is better than another, and all have the pianist’s idiosyncratic stamp.
All in all , with the combined rhythmic impetus of Jeff Clyne and Jackie Dougan, this is a most welcome release and essential listening for not just those that own the Quartet recroding, but anyone who is interested in the development of British jazz.
Reviewed by Nick Lea