Composed and Arranged by STAN TRACEY
Alice in Jazz Land
Afro-Charlie meets the White Rabbit
Fantasies in Bloom
Murdering the Time
Pig and Pepper
Portrait of a Queen
Trumpets: Kenny Baker, Eddie Blair, Ian Hamer, Les Condon.
Trombones: Keith Christie, Chris Smith, Wally Smith.
Alto Saxes: Alan Branscombe, Ronnie Baker (doubling clarinet).
Tenor Saxes: Ronnie Scott, Bobby Wellins.
Baritone Sax: Harry Klein.
Piano: Stan Tracey.
Double Bass: Jeff Clyne.
Drums: Ronnie Stephenson.
Tubby Hayes replaces Bobby Wellins on 'Summer Hallucinations' and 'Murdering the Time'.
Ken Wheeler replaces Eddie Blair on 'Murdering the Time'.
'Summer Hallucinations' features saxes and rhythm only.
'Pig and Pepper' features Stan Tracey, Ronnie Scott, Jeff Clyne and Ronnie Stephenson. Recording produced by Bob Barratt. Notes: © Derek Jewel
Deputy Editor, Sunday Times Magazine
There is nothing special about this record. Except that a British big band is actually recording; except that Stan Tracey is one of our few jazz musicians of world class; except that he wrote this brilliant suite mostly between the hours of four and six on a number of winter mornings, partly on trains and buses; except that there may be no more such suites unless someone buys him a few more records:except . . .
Nothing, you see, is quite what it seems, nor means quite what it says. Like that opening sentence. Like in Wonderland. This could become very involved indeed. Let me explain.
The fact is that in 1965 Stan Tracey, the March Hare of Frith Street, produced a suite, inspired by Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood. Played by his quartet, if turned out, in the opinion of several Mad Hatters, otherwise critics, to be a powerful runner for the title of Best British Jazz Record in History.
Tracey went into Milk Wood largely because he owns a record of the Thomas classic. He knows it backwards; he was moved by the beauty, the magic, the starless-and-bible-blackness of Thomas's language. He owns (at time of writing) only one other narrative record, Alice in Wonderland, with which his ears have long time been bent usually at the request of his children, Clark (5) and Sarah (3). He likes that too. And it seems inevitable that, after Milk Wood, he should have put his feelings about Lewis Carroll's story into music.
This time, though, the writing is for big band, which challenges Tracey's skiIls even more sharply than composing for the looser quartet framework. If seems to me to have come off quite as superbly as did Milk Wood; indeed, the instrumentation gives Tracey far more scope for his very idiosyncratic talents. There is a richness, depth and variety to this music which is thoroughly captivating.
The dawn-patrol flavour to Tracey's composing life is not a Carroll-like fantasy. It is one of the hard facts of earning a living in a hard world. Most nights he plays till deep into the morning at Ronnie Scott's Club in Frith Street, London. He goes home by bus at around 4 a.m. and finds that he writes best before he goes to bed. He also finds the bus a tolerable place in which to jot down musical ideas; he does the same in the train that takes him to work. The temptations, and perils. of "programme music" are well-known. The composer can't do more than express in music his own reactions to the character or situation a writer has created through the medium of words. The listener may not see it the way the musician does; equally he may read into the music far more than is really there.
Tracey is sensibly unpedantic about this. He aims to do no more than "slant the mood towards the title". But however modest he is about this, Tracey's Alice score has completely caught the mad, strange whimsical world of Carroll. This, in a sense, springs from Tracey's own musical gifts. He is an extraordinary pianist, always choosing the unusual way of saying things. He must be tired of being compared to Thelonious Monk, especially since he has now evolved his own completely personal style, but he shares with Monk the love of strange-sounding themes, of fractured rhythms, of calculated discord. Tracey's is, in the true sense of the word, a fantastic style. Carroll was a fantasist too.
Every piece on this record reflects Carroll's story in some way. Teatime Gavotte, which has solos by Bobby Wellins. Keith Christie and Tracey himself, is as full of odd quirkiness as was the tea party. Tracey's piano, particularly, sets the mood, but the composer won't say which soloist represents Mad Hatter, Dormouse or March Hare. Portrait of a Queen, a fast waltz, with Eddie Blair and Wellins taking solos, sounds both a touch zany and quite overwhelming :well, wasn't she? Summer Hallucinations, a showpiece for Alan Branscombe and the saxophone section, has the faintly unreal quality of a hazy, hot, summer's afternoon.
But I'll not strain the point too much. Other details : Afro-Charlie... has solos by Wellins and Les Condon; the tenor on Pig and Pepper (quartet only) is Ronnie Scott, who is also heard on the title track; Murdering the Time features Kenny Baker and Christie. Fantasies in Bloom is both the tune which has Tracey's longest solos and the one I happen to like most of all. Lovely and languid, it has the feel of Ellington at his best, especially in the beauty of the saxophone sounds and the cleverness of the writing for brass.
One more thing : this music swings like mad, always. And that's to do, one suspects, with the infectious way the musicians got caught up with the fun of the music at the recording sessions. Those sessions were a touch mad too. At one of them, when the band was trying hard to get the ending of Murdering the Time right (it's very difficult to play, time-wise), everything seemed perfect apart from a mysterious extraneous noise. "Harry", someone explained. "had to blow his nose in the last eight bars".
I hope you enjoy the music as much as I do. Me, I'm just starting off a collection to buy Mr. Tracey another record. Hamlet, maybe?