Mr Acker Bilk and the Stan Tracey Strings
Columbia TWO 335 Recorded 1971
You'll Never Know [Gordon-Warren]
Embraceable You [G & I Gershwin]
Bagatelle [Sidney Bechet]
It's Only A Paper Moon [Rose-Harburg-Arlen]
Summer Set [Bilk-Collett]
Out Of Nowhere [Green-Heyman]
Where Or When [Rodgers & Hart]
Jacqueline [Sidney Bechet]
Irish Lullaby [D Mack]
Bird In The Park [J Jelmer]
Horn Of Plenty [Stan Tracey]
Supervision: Denis Preston
Sleeve Design: Denis Preston
Photography: William Holden
Engineer: John Mackswith
SURPRISE, SURPRISE! We can almost hear the perturbation amongst ardent Ackfans the world over - grown used throughout a decade to the mesmeric arrangements and persuasive baton of Mr Leon Young - at the apparent intrusion of an unfamiliar figure on the podium and an unfamiliar pen at work on the manuscript paper! But rest assured, gentle Ackfan, for, as the French say: Plus ša change, plus c'est la meme chose! That throatily vibrant clarinet is unchanged as ever, and the repertoire is, as ever, that balanced mix of great great "standards", stimulating original compositions and wholly appropriate novelties, all calculated to enhance the sentimental peregrinations of our bowler hatted and fancifully waistcoated virtuoso. And those who've followed Mr Bilk's musical reconnoitring through its many phases, from Stranger On The Shore onward, will appreciate that Messrs Bilk and Tracey are no strangers in the recording studio - though their last engagement was not sentimental and stringlike but brash, brassy and swinging: in other words, the startingly successful BLUE ACKER (TWO 230), which won wide critical acclaim when it appeared in 1968.
Other notable, indeed illustrious, musical partnerships make their appearance among the composer credits - for example, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart with Where or When from their 1937 musical production, "Babes in Arms", and that unique fraternal combination, George and Ira Gershwin, with the evergreen Embraceable You from "Girl Crazy", their smash hit musical comedy of 1930.
Henry Warren - a composer associated with several famous songwriting partnerships over the years - and lyricist Mack Gordon combined talents to write the most endearing You'll Never Know, from the movie musical "Hello Frisco, Hello", which appeared in 1943. Skylark, one of the most enduring but least hackneyed of ballads, was a joint effort by two writers who are both well known and likeable performers in their own right - Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer.
Another partnership - though of a different genre - pianist Dave Collett and Acker himself were responsible for the haunting strains of Summer Set, a number which in the very different setting of Acker's Paramount Jazz Band became a smash hit on record back in 1960. And also from what we might call very loosely the jazz stable come two Caribbean - tinctured pieces from the pen of the late great New Orleans clarinettist and virtuoso of the soprano saxophone - Sidney Bechet. Both Bagatelle and Jacqueline were composed in Paris, where Bechet spent the last years of his long and eventful musical life.
Out of Nowhere, a tried and true "standard" dating back to 1931 was penned by Johnny Green, who only the year before had written the never to be forgotten Body and Soul. Harold Arlen, composer of such a wealth of fine popular melodies - from Stormy Weather to Blues in the Night - wrote It's Only a Paper Moon in 1933, which on this recording, turns out to be the sprightliest of Acker Bilk improvisations.
Which leaves only Irish Lullaby, a nostalgic folksy melody of the Danny Boy breed, Bird in the Park - an impishly attractive piece which was previously the title tune of the Wout Steenhuis album, "Bird in the Park' (TWO 283) - and the title tune of this present album, Horn of Plenty, especially written for Acker by M D Stan Tracey and couched in an idiom most familiar to this globetrotting, clarinet - tooting jazz maestro . . the blues.
Altogether, a stimulating repertoire, which, coupled with choice arrangements and typically appealing clarinet, makes this album a rewarding "first" for Mr Bilk in 1971 and a welcome addition to the many more he's made in stringstyle these ten years past.