Album reviews

Stan Tracey Trio – ‘The 1959 Sessions’

Stan Tracey Trio – ‘The 1959 Sessions’
(ReSteamed-Records RSJ116. Album Review by Leonard Weinreich.)

The music on this album, never previously released, represents a recovered time capsule and demands a word or two of context.

Having ‘won’ World War II, the weary British population faced a future of shortages and rationing. But young thrusters among progressive jazz musicians felt more deprived than most because they’d heard distant echoes of the bebop revolution from New York City, which, in their case, might well have been Mars. Tantalised by radical new sounds and frustrated by lack of means, they craved more than the available sparse rations allowed.

At which point, a miraculous solution presented itself: enlistment in Geraldo’s Navy, an organisation established by the high-society bandleader to equip glitzy transatlantic Cunard liners with dance bands. Which explains why intrepid young jazzers like Ronnie Scott, John Dankworth and Stan Tracey spent their nights playing strict tempo tangos, waltzes and insipid pop ditties to well-heeled passengers shuffling around the dance floor. However, the instant the ship moored at Manhattan’s Pier 54, the musos hurtled off to feast on the banquet of bebop on West 52nd Street until the liner was due to depart home.

Pianist Stan Tracey, already well-acquainted with the works of Duke Ellington, experienced the revelations of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Bud Powell in the flesh. But, on the evidence of this album (and countless subsequent evenings at Ronnie Scott’s club where Tracey served as long-term resident pianist), none left so lasting an impression on his keyboard style as Thelonious Monk.

The 1959 Sessions is an album of two halves. Four tracks of standards with drummer Tony Crombie and four of original Tracey compositions with drummer Phil Seamen.

At the time of recording, Tracey was pianist in the precise and glossy Ted Heath Orchestra, Britain’s premier dance band, a haven for the more skilful of modern jazz musicians. But precise and glossy weren’t really an outlet for Tracey’s brand of individualism.

However, once in range of Decca’s microphones in Broadhurst Gardens, Hampstead, Tracey’s idiosyncratic style was freed from its shackles. His reading of Vincent Youman’s Sometimes I’m Happy, amplifies the song’s underlying melancholia, emerging from a dark place festooned with Monk-like accents and dissonances. Bassist Kenny Napper and drummer Tony Crombie match the mood with rhythmic sophistication and unstinting swing. Jesse Greer’s Just You, Just Me demonstrates how thoroughly Tracey had absorbed Thelonious’s example as the foundation of his own style. His approach to Karl Suessdorf’s ballad Moonlight in Vermont is unconventional, percussive yet lyrical, tender yet unsentimental. And his version of Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid, Lester Young’s blues riff dedicated to a sympathetic radio disc jockey, replaces battered jam session licks with freshly minted phrases.

Three days later, the trio, now with legendary drummer Phil Seamen replacing Crombie, returned to Broadhurst Gardens to tape four of Tracey’s own compositions, showing traces of Tracey’s other major influence, Duke Ellington. The first piece, Mood 13, is contemplative with a lot of musing in the treble, propelled by Seamen’s inspired drumming. Little Girl Sadly, the second original, with Napper’s inspired bass, suggests thwarted passion and drizzly Soho alleyways.

After the first chorus of Street of Themes, tone and colour shift when Tracey switches from piano to vibraphone, producing an equally individual sound. Seamen, on form, shows why he earned deep respect from fellow musicians.

Pitter Patter Panic (a title suggested by Pitter Panther Patter, Ellington’s influential 1940 duet with bassist Jimmy Blanton?) is a rhythmic romp at an animated tempo by all the trio, Tracey winking audibly at Duke.

The album was meticulously transferred from original master tapes by Mike Brown. Erudite jazz chronicler Alyn Shipton supplied the authoritative sleeve note and the entire event was produced by Tracey’s son, drummer Clark Tracey. Unmissable.

(Stan Tracey,piano; Kenny Napper, bass; Tony Crombie, Phil Seamen, drums. Recorded at Decca U.K. Studio, Hampstead, London, 5 & 8 June, 1959.)

LINK: Buy The 1959 Sessions at Resteamed Records

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