FREE AN' ONE
Columbia SCX 6385
Rainbow At The Five Mile Road
Free An' One
Step An' Fetch It The Green Kingspring of King Springgreen Nudgy Vamp
Stan Tracey - Piano Peter King - Alto Sax Dave Green - Bass Bryan Spring - Drums
Recorded at Lansdowne Studios, London on 10 September 1969
Sleevenote - Humphrey Lyttleton
Supervision - Denis Preston
Engineer - Peter Gallen
At a time when conventions, shibboleths and restrictions are being shed in all directions, it would be surprising if jazz had held back in the general quest for freedom. The word "free" has now joined "swing", "improvisation" and "hot" in the vocabulary of vague and nebulous jazz jargon. What is "free"? I once introduced on the radio a group which had, it believed, attained the ultimate in freedom. Not only were bar lines, harmonic progressions, theme and key signatures done away with, but so too was the old-fashioned notion of leadership. The aim was pure democracy, a true, spontaneous improvisation with no one leading, no one following, all creating on equal terms. The result, in practice, was a profound silence punctuated by nervous squeaks. No one dared to play a positive phrase for fear of emerging as a leader, and the search for the ultimate in freedom had led to a straightjacket. If it is not to replace one set of conventions for another, freedom must include the freedom to go to church on Sunday, join the Boy Scouts, wear a bra or play "Muskrat Ramble". Which is what Stan Tracey implies when talking about the title track of this album. "How free is 'Free An' One'?" I asked. "If you mean 'was anything written out in advance?', the answer is no - we just started playing. But we felt free to drift into a set sequence like the blues or 'I Got Rhythm' at any time. And we always drifted out of it again." Stan believes that free jazz is in its infancy, that it has only taken a few steps towards its eventual destination, and that this destination will be reached in the way that all previous jazz forms have perfected - through the alomst tlepathic affinity between compatible musicians.
No one would expect the composer of such mature and explicit masterpieces as "Under Milk Wood" and "Alice In Jazz Land" to go charging impetuously off in new directions, especially at the head of a new quartet. And indeed, Free An' One stands alone in this album as an excursion into free form. Its presence in a well-integrated set reveals how little Stan Tracey's creative range is inhibited by the established conventions of set theme, set key and set chorus length.
Rainbow At The Five Mile Road, a characteristic Tracey theme with as many angles and sharp elbows as an old umbrella, owes its title to a holiday in Jersey during which Stan's son Clark saw his first rainbow on a drive along the Five Mile Road. The track highlights the drumming of Bryan Spring, a musician who first came to the fore in the under twenty Frank Riccotti Quartet a year or two ago. Laymen are often confused by the term "melodic drumming" but they need look no further than this LP for a definition - throughout the drum solos the music continues to sing.
In any Stan Tracey production, the titles are a rich source of secondary entertainment. "Step An' Fetch It is there because the phrase appeals to me". Connoisseurs of that most under-rated art-form, the pun, will dig The Green Kingspring of King Springgreen, a piece of waltz-time in which the theme makes an appearance in a sidelong, almost perfunctory manner. "Nudgy Vamp" is onomatopoeic - the "vamp" is the under-lying rhythm in 12/8, the "nudgy" is the dynamic effect inherent in the overriding theme. Prompted by the rolling 12/8 rhythm, I thought I detected a "train" motif here, in the Honky Tonk Train and Happy Go Lucky Local tradition. the suggestion aroused no romantic response from Stan, no one's idea of a travellin' man. "To me, that rhythm means 'African'" - and come to think of it, Meade Lux Lewis and Duke Ellington no doubt plucked it from the same family tree. And so back to "Free An' One", providing the ever-fascinating spectacle of skilled artists at work. Each musician makes his own important contribution. Peter King, agile and quick-witted as always, often seems to be scampering across the starless and bible black backdrop of Stan's piano chords in pursuit of some evasive harmonic sequence of his own. And in solo accompaniment, there's the endlessly inventive bass of Dave Green, prominent in a generation of bass players who, despite the transportation problems and the jokes about getting it under their chin, have worked hard and generously to endow the double bass with a range of expressiveness which it has never enjoyed before in any context.
If it is true, that recordings are a jazz musician's letters home, then this one is worth reading over and over again.