CBSO Centre, Birmingham
Listening to Stemless – drummer Clark Tracey and bassist Andrew Cleyndert sprinting in perfect synch at the back, the front line of Simon Allen on alto, Mark Armstrong on trumpet and Mornington Lockett on tenor blowing hard-bop bright, and Stan adding chunky fills to the spaces – it struck me this was jazz listening pleasure at its most essential.
All the fancy things that have happened since the ‘60s, all that electricity, all that genre-jumping and fusion stuff, all that post-this and post-that – has it really added anything to the pure pleasure of an acoustic jazz combo of strong personalities working hard to get closer to the always unattainable centre of this style we call jazz?
That’s not to carp about the last 50 years of jazz innovation, merely to reflect that sometimes, when the music is as finely constructed and executed as this, one is struck so forcibly by its completeness.
Not that there is anything dated about this music – despite the fact that in December Stan will be celebrating his 82nd birthday. The musical muscles are still taut, any traces of soft sentimentality absent. It’s truth he has always sought, and still does.
Reversing the cliché of slow-hand tenor and quick-fingered alto, Lockett worked the bigger instrument as if flailing each scale sequence into submission, while Allen worried a phrase, more thoughtful of the overall architecture. Between them Armstrong was both excited and measured in turns.
Watching Stan work through a solo, his fingers flat, his head bowed, one can almost see those composerly thoughts physically transmitted from brain to fingers to hammers to strings and out. He could be as close as we get in modern Britain to the jazz stature of Monk or Ellington.