Stan Tracey albums
Little KlunkLittle Klunk
Stan Tracey Trio
Recorded 22/26 May 1959
Notes: © KENNY GRAHAM (May 1959)

In Britain, the way I feel and hear it, there are regrettably few musicians who take their jazz seriously. I don't mean the "starve in a garret jazz for jazz sake" type of seriousness. I mean the musicians who, when they play jazz treat the whole process with discrimination, taste and forethought.

On these tracks we are fortunate to hear three such musicians.

The percussive sounds are dispensed by PHIL SEAMEN. Phil, of course, is no newcomer to the jazz scene; he has served his apprenticeship the hard way. Playing all types of music with all types of bands and orchestras. He is equally at home in a recording studio, a theatre orchestra pit or a jazz session. With or without music in front of him his main interest is to play the best possible combination of sounds to enhance the music he is playing and, above all, that it should swing. He has set himself a superhuman task and succeeds more often than not. By sheer power of will and his innate feeling for percussive sounds, Phil has "rushed in where angels fear to tread" to come out with flying colours. He is one of the truly "all round" "all rounders" when it comes to drumming.

He is not by any means the slick, stick-twiddling fool that is so many peoples idea of a drummer, and I am told by experts that he even holds his sticks incorrectly.

I can only hope that the experts can play as well as Phil does on these tracks.

The bass sounds are produced by KENNY NAPPER. Kenny was attracted to the string bass as naturally as water finds its own level. Starting on piano he experienced great discomfort having to battle against the hopeful, hit or miss techniques of his early colleagues. Having a "natural" "bass-ear" he decided to do something about it and turned his attention to the string bass.

He is meticulous, studious and serious about his music without being in the least stuffy. He is, I suppose, what is referred to as a "perfectionist", when a word is wanted to describe someone who feels that if a task is worth doing it is worth doing to the best of one's ability. Every note he plays is a challenge to him - not only must it be true in pitch but also in length and timbre. Each sound is carefully cultivated in his own private hot-house before it is put out on show.

Now we come to the instigator of the whole affair - STAN TRACEY. The titles are all Tracey originals and these compositions, together with his work on piano and vibes, give a very fair picture of Stan's musical capabilities. To my knowledge Stan Tracey first came on the scene about ten years ago. I have a vague memory of him playing accordion on a relief trio for Mecca. To be honest the only thing I can now recall is that the bass player worked a hi-hat pedal on the "off-beats" throughout the session as well as playing bass.

It was a few years later when he emerged as a pianist. It was almost as if he had been sorting himself out before coming out into the open. His conception of jazz has never been in the "current trend", and because of this he has never enjoyed the popularity many of his contemporaries have done.

The vibes came later and just as insidiously - one day they arrived and before you could say Thelonious Monk, he was playing vibes. Stan has, among other things, been accused of aping American pianists, but I think it fairer to state that any similarity is due to the influence of approach rather than style. He selects notes and chords from the piano keyboard and vibraphone bars rather like someone choosing hors' d'oeuvre. No wild flourish of notes - no flaying left hand - just well chosen, tasteful sounds. These sounds, augmented by the sensitive, full-toned bass of Kenny Napper and the drive of Phil Seamen's drums, made this recording inanimate proof that Britain can produce jazz that is not just a faithful exercise in mimicry but a plain honest-to-goodness example of well played, well conceived music.

I am of the opinion that jazz will become, in all probability, the first world-wide folk music, and therefore find it gratifying that these three musicians felt it worth while to put thought and effort into these tracks. Take Phil's work on "FREE" with the five tuneable drums for one example. It is easy to call such an idea a gimmick and forget all about it, but those drums didn't just happen to be tuned that way when they left the shop.

However, I will not go into any airy-fairy meanderings about the various tracks.

You've got this far - put it on. Listen, and listen well; this is not music to chatter to.

POSTSCRIPT Since the above was written for the original release of the L.P. much has been happening to Stan Tracey's music. Recently he has deservedly enjoyed a certain amount of Fame but unfortunately not enjoyed the Fortune that should go with it. But such is the lot of a truly creative composer.

His 'Under Milk Wood' (1965), 'Alice in Jazzland' (1966), and 'With Love, From Jazz' (1968) have all been raved about and voted 'Record of the Year'. Each one of these L.P's is a fine example of how Stan has gradually and doggedly evolved rather than changed. True, he now uses Combos and Big Bands but the tunes you hear on these 'Little Klunk' tracks are the embryo sounds of what was to come. Even his solo L.P., 'In Person' (1967) shows us just how Stan Tracey's music has grown.

His music has also enjoyed a small amount of public exposure at Concerts and Tours but far too little in my opinion. I can only hope that the plans and projects that Stan has in mind for the future receive the acclaim they are bound to deserve. I am convinced there is a lot more to come out of him yet and see no reason why he shouldn't be proclaimed 'Musician of the Year' for 1969 and '70 as well as '67 and '68.

Meanwhile, enjoy this re-issue and amuse yourselves by trying to imagine how these tracks would sound had they been recorded in 1969 instead of '59. Any combination you like. It's easy because Stan Tracey is not just a piano player who writes tunes, he is a composer who happens to use a piano and the music he invents would sound great on almost anything!

Kenny Graham (July 1968)