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Reviewers: Don Mather, Tony Augarde, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby

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Tracey/Wellins Play Monk

Resteamed RSJ 104




1. I Mean You
2. Locomotive
3. Well You Needn’t
4. Round Midnight
5. Blues Bolivar
6. Monk’s Mood
7. Let’s Cool One
8. Bright Mississippi
Stan Tracey – Piano
Bobby Wellins – Tenor sax
Andrew Cleyndert – Bass
Clark Tracey – Drums

Stan Tracey’s piano style has often struck me as an amalgam of Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk. So an album of Monk’s compositions seems well suited to Tracey’s quartet. Stan certainly sounds very much at home with Monk’s jagged themes and angular chords. Tenorist Bobby Wellins is rather different: his playing has a sidelong approach which might be compared to Monk’s style but sometimes he sounds less happy with Thelonious’s tunes than (say) Charlie Rouse, Monk’s long-time saxist.

Yet we shouldn’t expect an imitation of the Monk quartet – indeed, that would be pointless, given that so many of Monk’s original recordings are available. What Tracey’s group does here is to breathe new life into the familiar repertoire: exhibiting respect but not subservience to the original interpretations. For instance, take a track like Well You Needn’t. In the version which Monk recorded in 1964 at the It Club in Los Angeles, Thelonious seemed to be deliberately trying to dislocate the rhythm behind Charlie Rouse’s solo, but on this album Stan Tracey helps Bobby Wellins along with more friendly accompaniment. And Tracey’s piano solo is less fragmentary than Monk’s. But there is an important similarity between the two groups. Just as Monk and Rouse played together for so long that their empathy was near-perfect, so Tracey and Wellins have developed great rapport.

The album was recorded last December at one of Stan’s old stamping grounds - the Bull’s Head in Barnes, where the group clearly felt at ease, and the sound balance is good. Several tracks on the CD last for eight minutes or more, so there is a relaxed feeling despite the stabbing notes and jagged phrases. And Tracey’s piano solo on Round Midnight is a thoughtful tribute to its composer.

One last thought. Hearing this quartet live recently, it was evident that Bobby Wellins continues to be unique – with a style that owes little to any other saxophonists. But Stan Tracey seemed to be changing subtly: sounding less like Thelonious Monk and developing more of his own individuality. It’s a healthy sign: octogenarians can change!

Tony Augarde




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