Album reviews

Stan Tracey Quartet/Big Brass – ‘From Stan, With Love’ (1967-8)

Stan Tracey Quartet/Big Brass – From Stan, With Love

(Resteamed Records 2CD set – Album review by Mark McKergow)

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This double CD features glorious jazz from the early heyday of pianist Stan Tracey’s long career.  Originally released on LPs by Columbia and then deleted, we can now once again hear these key sessions from Tracey’s quartet and big band from 1967 and 1968, startling originals alongside some juicy Ellington arrangements, all featuring the very top players of the day.  The remastering by Andrew Cleyndert is top-quality and the music shines off the disks.  

With Love From Jazz  (CD1) features the last session that tenorist Bobby Wellins and Stan Tracey recorded during the former’s run as featured quartet soloist which started as early as 1964 on a date with recently-departed beat poet Michael Horowitz’s New Departures project.  Tracey recorded his famous Under Milk Wood suite with Wellins in 1965, and there are clear comparisons in the compositional style with bustling themes resolving into 12-bars, lolloping AABA swingers and gorgeous ballad features.  This session from 1967 also features drummer Jackie Dougan (also from Under Milk Wood) and then up-coming double bassist Dave Green.

The eight tracks are all loosely connected by titles with amorous undertones. Everywhere Derriere is Stan’s wry tribute to the emerging mini-skirted fashions of the time, starting with a shouting tenor theme from Wellins which he then brings down to a lower level and then builds up again, a very effective piece of musical dynamic. Love Now, Weep Later bounces along with touches of Llareggub, Wellins and Tracey gelling magnificently as they so often did with Wellins authoritatively laying down what seems to be the only tenor solo possible over Tracey’s jangling chordal stabs. 

Sweet Used To Be is a ballad with a particularly strong tenor solo, Wellins totally in control at the top end of his instrument.  Lover’s Freeway is another spritely 12-bar, Green and Dougan both getting some well-deserved solo space.  Amoroso, Only More So sees Tracey move to celeste for the delicate opening, and back to piano for his solo which again spurs Wellins on in his own moving contribution.

The final track on the quartet album is somewhat of a departure, recorded three weeks or so later with Lennie Bush and Ronnie Stephenson on bass and drums respectively.  Three Times Loser, Three Times Blueser has an African feel with Tracey on vibes sounding like a thumb piano riffing under Stephenson’s tomtom rhythms, whistles aplenty, a little judicious sax multi-tracking and a very different feel. 

The second CD in this set is, if anything, even more majestic and important.  We Love You Madly, named after Ellington’s catchphrase, features seven Ellington/Strayhorn classics in stomping Tracey big-band arrangements with Stan’s original eponymous tribute track to round it all off.  Tracey’s lifelong fascination with Duke Ellington is well documented, and in 1968 producer Dennis Preston approached him to make a big-band album of Ellington’s music to celebrate the American’s 70th birthday. Preston had already identified the featured soloists from within his own stable, which fortunately featured the cream of the crop including Don RendellIan Carr, Joe Harriott and – somewhat surprisingly –  ‘Mr’ Acker Bilk.

There are so many highlights that it’s difficult to know where to start.  Blues With A Feeling is a kind of overture, giving space to all the featured soloists. Stan leads on I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart, all Monk-ish elbows and spiky not-quite-discords and Barry Morgan letting fly huge drum breaks. Don Rendell brings out his soprano saxophone for Passion Flower, leading the melody gracefully before an extended solo. Also at the softer end of the spectrum, Acker Bilk takes the solo on Creole Love Call with aplomb, his trademark vibrato conjoined effectively with shrieks, growls and slides in a masterclass in clarinet soloing without ‘too many notes’. 

Ian Carr’s flugelhorn leads on a swinging I’m Beginning To See The Light, and Jamaican-born Joe Harriott soars majestically on alto sax on In A Sentimental Mood.  If there is another session where Ian Carr, Joe Harriott and Acker Bilk are to be found alongside each other, I’d like to know about it!  The other featured soloist is Tony Coe, romping home in his elliptical style on tenor saxophone on Lay-By, a rocking 12-bar blues. A quick note for completists – the arrangements from this album and a couple of extra tracks were re-recorded (mostly faster) by Stan and a new generation of soloists on Mole Records in 1989, under the title We Still Love You Madly

This re-issue of long-lost material brings together music of the highest quality – £12.99 is a modest price indeed. The cover photos feature Stan alongside Jackie, his wife for almost half a century who supported him through thick and thin and who ran Stan’s Steam Records. The family connection continues with their son Clark whose programme of re-issues will continue later in the year with a previously unreleased recording of Don Weller with the Tracey trio. 

LINK: From Stan, With Love at Resteamed Records

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