Before talking about that recording, I want to talk about Tracey's "Under Milkwood: Jazz Suite" (Resteamed Records 2008), which was originally released in 1965 and is even considered today to be one ofTracey's crowning achievements. On that recording, Tracey is joined by Bobby Wellins on tenor saxophone, Jeff Clyne on bass, and Jackie Dougan on drums. It is the incredible interplay between Tracey's piano and the tenor saxophone of Bobby Wellins that really stands out on the recording, and many consider this to be Wellins' crowning achievement as well. Tracey's roots were in Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington, but he was beginning, with other U.K. players, to find his own voice, shifting from imitations of American bop and swing to original material. "Under Milkwood: Jazz Suite" was really distinctive, writing by Tracey with its lean beauty and respect for the spirit of the play by Dylan Thomas. Wellins was often criticized at the time as a player slavishly copying the U.S. masters like Charley Parker, but in fact demonstrates here his originality and style to great effect. It is his restraint from over blowing, his lovely tone, his use of silences in his solos, and his ability to create variations of lightness and shade that distinguish him here. There are no endless streams of blowing, no rambling; the music is concise and demonstrates clearly the close relationship between Wellins and Tracey.
Tracey's pianism varies in touch and tone with great virtuosity, and as with Wellins, he knows how to keep his solos short and concise even as he is creating great impressionistic swaths of sound. This is absolutely first rate, and should be a part of anyone's collection. It is not well-known to U.S. listeners so I hope those who are reading this will give it a try.
Recorded live at Ronnie Scott's in 1964, "Soho Nights Volume 2" (Resteamed Records 2008) is a second set from tenor giant Ben Webster's appearances at the club, backed by Stan Tracey's 'in-house' trio. The quality of the sound captures the atmosphere of the club nicely, and the introduction and good night from Ronnie Scott add to the live feeling of the set. This is Vol 2, but it was actually recorded three years earlier than Vol 1, in 1964.
The set is great. "Night in Tunisia" shows the high spirits and hijinks of the group, with Webster's sound more wailing than usual to match the original swinging upbeat feel of the song. The drumming and bass lines are equally forceful and rapidly advance the tempo and maintain the high spirited romp. The band demonstrates its flexibility as it switches over to the next piece "Chelsea Bridge", which is played as tenderly and richly as one has ever heard it. Webster sounds lovely and the band is quietly supportive of his play. Rarely does one hear a more sensitive backing by the piano as Tracey supplies here. The two play like they have been together for years, not as if they had just met, as is the case. "Over the Rainbow" is similarly beautiful, with Webster's legendary sound putting the longing and romance into the song that matches the original from a young Judy Garland in the movie. The band goes back to cooking with "Cotton Tail" and "The Theme", and clearly leaves the crowd in an upbeat mood.
Volume 2 is an exhuberent outing full of great play and unrestrained joy. Webster demonstrates his unerring sense for concise but beautiful improvisations, Tracey and his trio are terrific accompanists, and the whole thing must have been an incredible night for the club's patrons. Another winning CD.
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