Review and pictures by Garry Corbett
Mac, Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham UK
Throughout its history of 40 years Birmingham Jazz has had a strong relationship with the music of Stan Tracey. The passing of Stan in 2013 could have marked an end to this relationship. Luckily for all present on this evening Stan’s music continues to live and develop thanks to the continued enthusiasm of Birmingham Jazz and the dedication of Stan’s son Clark to keeping his legacy alive.
The Octet, somewhat altered in personnel from that billed in the programme, saw Clark Tracey leading from the drums and performing his role as MC with charm and humour, Art Themen, Simon Allen and Nadim Teimoor on reeds with Martin Shaw, trumpet, Alastair White, trombone, and Andrew Cleyndert, bass. The difficult job of playing piano in the late pianist’s band fell to Steve Melling.
The Octet concentrated on material commissioned and written by Stan Tracey for various suites over a number of years. Opening with a spirited Spectrum 2 from the Spectrum Suite their two sets comprised nine numbers, only one of which, the encore of Monk’s In Walked Bud was a non Tracey original.
At time sounding like an orchestra twice its eight-man size the band brought out the structure of the composer’s arrangements, the drive, swing and sheer joy of the music while offering some barnstorming and at times beautiful soloing. Cuddly from the Bracknell Connection highlighted Alastair White’s trombone which was a joy throughout the evening, making a real statement with this often underused instrument in the jazz composer’s palette.
The lovely Ballad for St. Ed from the Salisbury Suite highlighted Simon Allen’s alto saxophone and Art Themen, initially playing tenor but bringing the number its conclusion on soprano saxophone. Between times the composition gave us a fine piano solo from Steve Melling and despite the its title swung at times like an old time jazz band. Mainframe was fast and swinging, once more featuring strong trombone work from the revelatory Alastair White followed by the first drum solo of the evening from Clark Tracey at his eye catching Cadillac Green drum kit.
The second set opened with Rocky Mount from Portraits Plus which Tracey recorded for Blue Note in 1992. “We were nominated for a Mercury Prize for that album”, said Clark Tracey by way of introduction, “the closest we got to stardom!”. The number featured an inspiring Steve Melling piano solo.
Sweet Lips followed from The Hong Kong Suite, “commissioned by Mr. Patton thanks to Mrs. Patton’s love of jazz to celebrate leaving the province”, according to Clark. Boathouse followed, the only stand-alone number in the set apparently having no home in a suite and its origins vague according to Clark. In my mind the title conjured a Dylan Thomas reference.
The highlight of an evening of highlights was for me Timespring from the Bracknell Connection suite. With its piano opening flirting with freedom before setting the mood, the band swiung out like a full orchestra. Another stirring trombone solo before the entire band dropped out and left the stage to the two tenors of Art Themen and Nadim Teimoori. This wasn’t a “tough tenors battle” as jokingly stated in his introduction by Clark Tracey but instead some breathtaking unison playing, a tenor conversation between the elder statesman and younger player who was on fine form all evening but really came into his own in this stripped down duo. It was a magical five minutes and had the audience quite rightly whooping and clapping as it came to a conclusion as the band re-entered with a trumpet solo from Martin Shaw. Clark Tracey’s extended drum solo brought the triumphant evening to an explosive conclusion.
In conclusion, here’s a direct quote from Stan Tracey himself which appears in the Birmingham Jazz Fifth Anniversary Souvenir my copy of which, despite the ravages of time, has survived. Stan says:
“Jazz has, and will always rely on the groups of enthusiasts who form clubs and societies to put on regular events in their areas. They are unpaid and unsung, and their only motivation comes from their love of music.
“Sometimes, the clubs are one-off disasters. Some totter on in premises designed by jazz-hating psychologiests to inhibit, depress and test the reason of all who dare in there. Some, through good organisation and understanding, get to celebrate their fifth anniversary. Such a one is Birmingham Jazz Society, and with this achievement in mind, my fellow jazz practitioners and I would like to offer our congratulations on this, your fifth birthday.
I would also like to give you a personal thank you for the hospitality the society has always shown, with complete regards to the hazards of motorway cafeteria, I look forward to playing for you for many years to come.” – Stan Tracey.
He did, of course, and this year Birmingham Jazz clocks up 40 years of promoting jazz in the city. Long may they continue.
Categories: Live review