Album reviews

Stan Tracey – ‘Wisdom in the Wings’ (two albums from 1969)

Stan Tracey – Wisdom in the Wings
Two albums (Free An’ One and Seven Ages of Man, both from 1969)

(Resteamed Records- RSJ114. Album Review by Frank Griffith)

This double album reissue from 1969 features one LP with Stan Tracey’s Big Band of the time (full personnel listing below) and one with quartet featuring Peter King.

There is a Shakespearian theme to the big band album. The titles of its eight pieces include like All The World’s A Stage, Enter Romeo, Wisdom in the Wings and the aptly named closing track, Kindly Leave The Stage – video below. All of these tunes are dynamic and challenging, and yet imbued with that quirky uniqueness that is Stan Tracey’s hallmark. In many appealing ways it is not dissimilar to the playful and puckish wit of Monk melodies, say, or to the angular and biting, dissonant harmonies of Ellington and Strayhorn.

This incarnation of Tracey’s large ensembles was a mixture of “old heads” and newly arrived youngblood “comers” on the late 1960s British scene. They include semi veteran brassmen, Hank Shaw, Keith Christie and baritone saxist Ronnie Ross pitted with saxophonists, Alan Skidmore, Tony Coe and Peter King as well as bassist Dave Green and the drumwork of Bryan Spring. All of whom push the melodic and harmonic envelope in their improvisations and interactive accompanying of soloists. Another welcome voice – the vibraphone of Frank Ricotti adds a percussive buttressing to the ensemble figures. Much like Tristan Fry’s percussion and vibes on John Dankworth’s epic recording, The Million Dollar Collection, recorded only two years earlier, in 1967.

One particularly noteworthy aspect of the instrumentation is the way Stan Tracey adds vibes to the normal complement of a big band rhythm section, piano, bass and drums. Far from limiting the role to doubling the chords already being played by the pianist, Tracey utilises Frank Ricotti in a very striking way (groaning pun intended) and adds a wonderful textural sheen and a compelling rhythmic verve to his inventive melodic dynamism.

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The Shakespearian theme followed on from Tracey’s previous recording, Alice In Jazz Land. In which the sleeve note annotator, Peter Clayton, commented- “another go at nailing some Traceyisms to a literary framework” This would not be the case though as the “lions were let out of the cage” this time with saxist Alan Skidmore’s bodacious solo on All the World’s A Stage as well as Ricotti’s multi-dimensional vibes outing on Panto’ Panta. These modern and innovative explorations were a welcome addition to Tracey’s already established rich sound palette.

Whereas Seven Ages of Man is structured and suite-like, the other album in this pairing, Free An’ One, in its looser way, has very different virtues. The title track in particular displays its tremendous originality through the way the theme develops organically from a motif, and the way Peter King states, explains and elucidates it is a joy. And Nudgy Vamp does exactly what this listener hoped it would do on reading the title: it develops a lurking, constantly recurring idee fixe which doesn’t only slip in and out of the tune, it also stays around in an irresistibly “nudgy” way as a presence through the solos.

The double album is welcome revisiting of two important and innovative Stan Tracey offerings. All credit to Stan’s son, Clark for supervising and enabling the disc to emerge on Resteamed Records, and for keeping the flame alive.

Seven Ages of Man: Derek Watkins, Tony Fisher, Greg Bowen, Hank Shaw (trumpets), Keith Christie, Chris Pyne, Mike Gibbs (trombones), Peter King, Dennis Walton (alto saxophone), Tony Coe (clarinet, tenor saxophone), Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Ronnie Ross (baritone saxophone), Stan Tracey (piano and compostion), Dave Green (double bass), Bryan Spring (drums), Frank Ricotti (vibes).

Free An’ One: Stan Tracey, Peter King Dave Green Bryan Spring.

LINK: Albums from Resteamed Records website

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