This double CD, as its title suggests, has its roots in the easy, informal interplay between pianist Stan Tracey and his drummer son Clark Tracey in the sound checks they routinely undertake before performances.
Stan’s late wife Jackie, who must have heard a good few of these impromptu duets in her time, urged them to make a recording as a duo, and the wisdom of her advice is manifest in all nine of the first CD’s tracks. As Clark says in his liner notes, these pieces draw on ‘the many musical influences we’ve shared, sounds I grew up with and the flavours of places we’ve visited’, and the closeness of the consequent musical rapport is apparent from the first few bars of ‘Foregone Conclusion’, the album’s feisty opener, to its closer, ‘Midnight Around’, its Monk reference clear in its title.
The programme is presented as recorded, the tunes all springing from what Clark refers to as ‘a vague mood or style’, and the finished versions are unedited, so the overall impression is of an intimate, easygoing but supremely musicianly session, hard-swinging and thoughtful by turns, but always demonstrating the truth of the memorable remark once made by Stan in a radio interview to the effect that he’d been searching for a suitable drummer all his career, unaware that he already had one in his loins. This bond is enjoyably apparent throughout the duo CD, but is also vital in the second, on which regular bassist, the lush-toned but lithe Andrew Cleyndert, is heard; the fours-trading between father and son is almost telepathically smart and precise, Clark’s selection of timbre and dynamics behind Stan’s improvisations always absolutely spot-on. Overall, though, Sound Check is very much a showcase for the UK’s most (justly) celebrated jazz pianist, which he clearly revels in, firing off a series of characteristically playful but pungent solos on both classics (‘Chelsea Bridge’, ‘I Want to Be Happy’, a couple of Monk tunes etc.) on the trio album and the unplanned improvised duets on the duo CD.
All the Tracey hallmarks are present: the delightfully unpredictable skipping runs, the sudden intervallic leaps down the piano concluding in an emphatic percussive clang that seems to launch the solo back up the keys, the telling use of space and subtle rhythmic displacement. ‘Strong, virtuosic individuality’ is Clark’s phrase for this, and it has seldom been better documented than on this wholly enjoyable and valuable release.