Stan Tracey albums
Stan Tracey in PersonSTAN TRACEY IN PERSON
Columbia (LP) SCX 6124
Early October 1966:
Stan Tracey (solo piano)
Notes: © Max Harrison Here's a rarity - an L.P. of modern solo piano jazz. That's something not too many contemporary keyboard men are prepared to attempt. In the early days of jazz the piano was usually heard by itself - in bars, cabarets and such places. But as jazz broadened-out and became more sophisticated so pianists explored their instrument's resources with greater thoroughness. With a wider variety of tasks for their hands to perform they found it more and more convenient to leave bass and drums to supply the music's underlying pulse, but this has meant that most pianists have come a little too dependent upon their accompanists. Many of them seem almost afraid to do without this friendly support and to go it alone! So in making this record Stan Tracey is swimming against quite a strong tide, something it always takes courage to do.
Of course, Tracey has a great deal in his favour. To start with, he's most original. In listening to this disc for the first time you may feel that he set out deliberately to play each piece in as unexpected a way as possible. Yet, having heard it several times over, I doubt as if that's what happened at all. Stan Tracey's originality is unforced, natural. Sonny Boy is a good instance of what I mean. Most people know this as a vehicle for the late Al Jolson's sentimental wallowings. Most jazz pianists would go through the tune as quickly as possible and press on, making variations on its chords. Yet that's just what Stan Tracey doesn't do. He keeps the melody to the fore all the time, subjecting it to all kinds of forceful decoration, and putting it through a whole range of keyboard textures. At the end it's still Sonny Boy, yet it's without a single whiff of sentimentality. And the point is that Tracey makes it sound as if this is the way it ought to be played. As much can be said of his performances of Sophisticated Lady and Prelude To A Kiss. Here we are far from the usual kind of lush ballad treatment. Stan sounds thoughtful, searching: and his playing is emotional without being self-indulgent. Blues At Random is another kind of success. The blues form offers a strong temptation to banality in that it is linked in every musician's mind with a great mass of cliches, especially pianistic ones. Tracey's response is almost a study in how to avoid them all. The truth is, of course, that he has as personal a view of the blues as of all the other material here. The other blues, Bags Groove, adds the further challenge of comparison, for it has been used by so many great jazzmen. But Stan finds his own way, and in harmonic scope and rhythmic freedom there is much here that has no part of the average blues performance.
A danger inherent in piano solos based on popular ballads is that often they stop being jazz and become cocktail-lounge music instead. Tracey evades this trap as well. Darn That Dream is sensitive, yet firmly moulded. Willow Weep For Me is emphatic in its expression but quite without empty rhetoric, whilst this craggy, surprising account of Gone With The Wind is a world away from that tune's conventional wistfulness. And he can even find something worth saying on Little Man You've Had A Busy Day, which, as with all these tracks, he has the sense to keep short and to the point. Modestly, though, he makes his own piece, Let Them Crevulate - vide Thurber - the briefest item of all! It's a rather sardonic piece, with a surprise ending. Best of all is Exactly Like You, a corny tune that is made to sound subtle. A bold conception showing us Tracey's most daring thoughts, this is full of real intensity.
If asked for the secret of Stan's success as a solo pianist I'd say it is that he improvises on the melodies, not just on their chords. That's no magic formula, but it works very well for him. His harmony is individual yet not freakish, his keyboard layouts inventive but not contrived. You'll find this music full of unexpected accents and unpredictable melodic twists, full of the surprises and satisfactions that fine jazz always offers.
And for those who enjoy this album, may we recommend two further recordings by this talented British jazz musician: JAZZ SUITE - inspired by Dylan Thomas's "Under Milk Wood" (COLUMBIA) by the Stan Tracey Quartet, and ALICE IN JAZZ LAND by the Stan Tracey Big Band (COLUMBIA).