‘The Return of Captain Adventure’ could be Tracey’s finest ‘live’ album.


Art Themen – tenor/soprano saxophone; Stan Tracey – piano; Dave Green – double bass; Bryan Spring – drums

Recorded live at 100 Club London, 3rd November 1975

Disk 1

Friday The 31st / They’ll Call Us* / Doin’ it for Art / Afro Charlie Meets The White Rabbit* / See Meenah

Disk 2

Tease ‘n’ Freeze / Lover Man* / Constant Pud* / Captain Adventure / Twas Ever Thus* /     Blues, Encore Blues*

*previously unissued tracks

Stan Tracey served as the house pianist at Ronnie Scott’s in the sixties, accompanying the tenor guests such as Rollins, Griffin, Byas, Getz.  He produced his own albums with Denis Preston on Lansdowne, including ‘Under Milk Wood’.  It is a cliche to say that ‘Under Milk Wood’ is Stan Tracey’s best album. However, ‘The Return of Captain Adventure’ could be Tracey’s finest ‘live’ album. It pulsates with the life and vitality of Stan Tracey at his best with Art Themen’s acrid-toned tenor creating splendidly.  ‘Under Milk Wood’ was about pre-determined thought-through work; this session isn’t. It really is an adventure, close to the Stan Tracey that people heard in clubs with all the bravura insolence and the idiosyncratic playing and composing.

Originally released as a single album Captain Adventure’ (two tracks per side) under the Steam label in 1975, this 2 CD reissue comes with unreleased pieces totaling over an hour’s worth of music.: real magnanimous generosity.  It would have been an act of vandalism to keep the extra tricks in the vaults.  I imagine that they would have resisted imprisonment, and broken loose, such is their energy.  Yes, Stan Tracey has obvious influences and it is pointless to detail them because Stan Tracey is absolutely, completely himself. Stan Tracey brings his life experiences to his artistry. No one plays piano with the authority and audacity of Stan.

Peter Bould has engineered some important recordings: the Clark Boland band at Ronnie Scott’s, The Gil Evans Festival Hall concert in 1978, and this session at the 100 Club.  Bould’s skill was to capture the vivacity of the occasion and to separate the instruments, to present the sounds as if you were there. The impact of this recording is immediate. Tracey’s piano is there with all its percussive weight.  Themen’s throaty, tough tenor saxophone roars, Bryan  Spring’s thunderous drums are allied to the elasticity and depth of Dave Green.

Tracey’s mischievous playing is wayward, unpredictable with its boisterous generosity. Tracey had his own rhythm, a unique style that he carried around with him, not exactly free-flowing but certainly suffused with unbridled, harmonic positivity.

Captain Adventure is the energy heart of the whole album.  The explosive opening fired by Tracey, Spring, and Green detonates the whole piece injecting joy and vitality. Tracey aided and abetted by Spring and Green provokes and inspires Art Themen to lift off the whole quartet to higher levels.

‘Afro Charlie Meets the White Rabbit’ began life on the ‘Alice in Jazzland’ album as an 11-minute virtuoso display from Bryan Spring. The convoluted, serrated, devilish tune is played out by Art and Stan.  Another example of Tracey’s melodic genius.

According to Art Themen ‘Doin’ It For Art’ is the only time that they played this.  A rippling impressionistic introduction for the piano gives way to the almost soft side of Art as he moves from assertive to gentle, a solo of purring complexity, exploration and beautiful.

‘Lover Man ‘presents’ Stan at his most quixotic, allusive and elusive. It is musical cubism with the melody fragmented into sharp shards of melody.  Dave Green brings order back before Art Themen at his most reflective and searching as he reaches for the far heights of the tenor, dark , strangulated, complex, and almost romantic.  Tracey returns enjoying the subtle stimulation of the drums. Themen in assertive mood flutters and flatters. before a soft coda finishes the extraordinary, beautiful, interpretation which the quartet had summoned from nowhere.

This is a ‘you should have been there’ album, except, when you play this, you are there, experiencing the verve, the exultant creativity, the adventure and exuberance, the swirling, slam-bang intensity of a quartet reacting on every track to inspiration.  This is a real adventure playground.