Stray Horn Records SHR002

Clark Tracey (drums, backing vocals); Emily Masser (vocals); Alex Clarke (alto & tenor saxophones, flute); Graham Harvey (piano, Rhodes); James Owston (bass)

Recorded 21st October, 2023

This is an excellent new album from what may be Clark Tracey’s best ever quintet. Quite an accolade when one considers some of the musicians that have gone before including Jamie Talbot, Guy Barker, Harry Bolt, Simon Allen, Zoe Rahman, Pete Billington, and Mark Armstrong to name check just a few.

A couple of firsts too for Clark as well, with the first time the quintet featuring a vocalist, and also, we get to hear the drummer add his own vocals to the mix; providing backing vocals to a lovely reading of Jobim’s ‘Passarim’ alongside Emily Masser and some tasteful flute from Alex Clarke.

Elsewhere on this fine recording we have an exquisite ballad medley in ‘Then I’ll Be Tried of You/ A Time for Love’, the former for Emily’s tender and heartfelt vocals to be followed by Alex’s big toned tenor saxophone on the latter. Lovely stuff!

We are treated to some no-nonsense hard bop as the quintet kick things off with a tremendous ‘A Bitta Bittadose’ composed by altoist Bobby Watson. Emily Masser shows her vocal skills in an excellent unison passage with the saxophone and seals the deal with a scat solo to die for. Giving the vocalist a run for her money, Alex also gets in a pertinent solo as does pianist Graham Harvey.

Nothing too over-sentimental in the treatment of ‘A Sleeping Bee’ as once again Masser and Clarke dig in, spurred on by the dynamic rhythm section; and in another fine interpretation of the standard ‘Nothing Like You’, Masser steals the show with her stunning delivery of the lyrics.

Recorded in just one day in October last year, the quintet must have been on fire, as things really heat up on a tremendous ‘So Near, So Far’ with some full toned alto from Clarke and another swinging solo from pianist, Harvey.

However, it is difficult to top the extraordinary version of ‘The Man I Love’ with a fantastic arrangement by Masser of Gershwin’s tune that features brilliant accompaniment and solo from Clarke on tenor and Masser’s incredible vocalese with some of her own lyrics thrown in giving the piece a very contemporary slant.

The quintet brings the set to a fitting finale with a blistering take on Jimmy Deuchar’s ‘Suddenly Last Tuesday’ that has Emily matching Alex every step of the way through the tricky theme, and an excellent solo from Alex on tenor.

Those with long memories may remember that ‘Suddenly Last Tuesday’ was the title track of Clark’s debut album as leader of his own quintet with Guy Barker and saxophonist Jamie Talbot as the frontline horns. A group I had the good fortune of seeing on numerous occasions, and I would go as far as saying that this new quintet more than gives them a run for their money.

And talking of money, you can do a lot worse than part with a little of yours to acquire a copy of this superb release available from Stray Horn Records.