Live At Ronnie Scott's
All compoositions by Stan Tracey
Funky Day In Tiger Bay
The Cardiff Chapter
Stan Tracey (piano)
Guy Barker (trumpet)
Jamie Talbot (alto)
Art Themen (tenor, soprano, sopranino saxophones)
Roy Babbington (bass)
Clark Tracey (drums)
Engineered by Greg Chapman
Mastered by Ray Staff at Trident
Sleeve designed by Fiona Tracey
Drawings by Christina Balit
Sleevenotes by John Fordham & Richard Williams
Produced by Stan and Jackie Tracey for Steam Records
In the 1980's, when British jazz musicians have made international reputations for themselves in every idiom of the art, it's sometimes hard to recall how recently it was that the local version had difficulty in being recognised for anything other than good or bad mimicry of Americans.
Stan Tracey, who has been at the forefront of the business for the past three decades and a professional musician for rather longer, was one of those who had the hardest job of all. He belonged to the first generation of British performers who were trying, in those restless, optimistic years after the war, to learn from the inspirations of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk despite being 3000 miles away from the source, and then develop a style of their own in a culture that had never been hospitable to jazz. Tracey, one of the undisputed giants of the music in Britain, managed exactly that.
In November 1985, Tracey's new band Hexad played opposite Chet Baker fro a season that represented one of Ronnie Scott Club's most perfect balances of utterly different persuasions in jazz. Bothy Baker and Tracey defined the spirit of jazz in their different ways, and the audiences responded by being utterly absorbed in a manner rare for a night-club. You can hear much of that on this record, which superbly captures the atmosphere of a Tracey band in performance.
From the opening tune ('Funky Day In Tiger Bay', a supercharged, glossier incarnation of the 'Milk Wood' eraand also reminiscent of a Roland Kirk theme - Tracey's seven years at Roniie Scott's as house pianist were an exhausting but liberating apprenticeship) to the urgent, whirling 'Metro Allegretto' (a British title if ever there was one) the band consistently demonstrates both its leader's idiosyncrasies as a composer and the sidemen's idiosyncracies in interpreting them. Listen to Barker's poise and restraint as he begins his solo after the flurry of the opening track's theme, Art Themen's stuttery, Rollins-like whistfulness, Jamie Talbot's cascading loquacity, as its peak on the second side's 'Cardiff Chapter'. Clark Tracey's nudging rimshots behind Themen's solo on the same tune. Tracey Senior demonstrates his intros to be every bit as characteristic as Basie's on the opening of 'Scoop Event' and Roy Babbington lends both gravity and audacity to the double bass.
If there was justice in the world, then Stan Tracey's world-class band ought to be on offer, somewhere, every night of the week. Since it isn't, this album makes a very good second best. It captures a kind of magic that often eludes the mixing desk. Listen, and you'll know what I mean.
John Fordham (City Limits, The Guardian)
Stan Tracey has led many fine and memorable bands - indeed, he is still leading several of them - but none of them has excited me as much as Hexad. Some jazz makes you smile, some jazz makes you frown and some jazz makes you purr, but Hexad's music makes you want to shout with joy.
When did you last hear a band swing the way this does on "Funky Day In Tiger Bay"? The last time you heard the jazz messengers,probably. Clark Tracey's strutting drive would certainly draw a smile of recognition and approval from the maestro, Arturo Blakey. The key must be the way Stan has blended wily experience - himself, Roy Babbington and Art Themen - with the the freshness of youth. Clark has made astonishing strides since arriving in the drum chair at a very early age, and is now leading a terrific quintet of his own. Guy Barker shows himself to be capable of combining tremendous fire with a delightful melodic poise; his authority is most impressive.
I must admit though, that apart from the collective endeavour, the playing of Jamie Talbot is what really pulls me out of my seat. Old timers will understand when I say that such energy hasn't been heard in British alto saxophonist since Graham Bond abandoned the Don Rendell Quintet for Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated in the early Sixties. Listen to the way Jamie channels that energy into a phenomenally exciting solo on "The Cardiff Chapter", or the clarity with which he stamps his personality on the ballad, "Spaces".
Like his colleagues, he revels in the atmosphere Stan has created for Hexad - intense, with not a hint of slack, but relaxed enough to permit sheer pleasure. This is an exceptional band, with an exceptional album now adding to its lustre.
Richard Williams (The Times)