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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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The Early Works

Resteamed RSJ 107




CD1: The Bracknell Connection
1. Cuddly
2. Agitato Sympatico
3. Fraggie Bar Waltz
4. Timespring
5. Chiffik
CD2: Salisbury Suite
1. Peg Leg Bates
2. Ballad For St. Ed
3. Miff
Peter King - Alto sax (CD1)
Jeff Daly - Alto sax (CD2)
Art Themen - Tenor sax, soprano sax
Don Weller - Tenor sax
Harry Beckett - Trumpet
Malcolm Griffiths - Trombone
Stan Tracey - Piano
Dave Green - Bass
Bryan Spring - Drums

Clark Tracey continues to do his father (and Stan Tracey fans) a service by issuing albums of Stan Tracey's old recordings, some of which (like this double album) have not appeared on CD before. This set also includes a previously-unissued encore Chiffik from the 1976 Salisbury Arts Festival.

The album contains two suites: The Bracknell Collection, recorded at London's 100 Club in November 1976, and the Salisbury Suite, recorded at the Festival Hall in February 1978. Both of them exemplify Stan Tracey's imaginative composing and arranging. His abilities in this area often concentrate on his Under Milk Wood suite but he wrote many other fine compositions and arrangements - from which I would single out his arrangements of various works by Duke Ellington.

The Bracknell Connection, originally released on Stan's Steam label, was written for the second Bracknell Jazz Festival and subsequently recorded at the 100 Club. As with Duke Ellington, Tracey devised resourceful arrangements while allowing his individual soloists full rein to show their paces. The first number Cuddly includes a couple of storming tenor-sax solos (unfortunately the sleeve-note doesn't identify which tenorist is playing, although I guess that it's Art Themen and then Don Weller here). Malcolm Griffiths' trombone solo is less coherent, and he is possibly the least reliable in a strong line-up of musicians. The band lays out for Stan to solo, with definite echoes of Thelonious Monk.

But perhaps the most impressive thing about this track - and all the others  - is the way that the octet is propelled by bassist Dave Green and drummer Bryan Spring. Dave Green's brilliance is well-known but Bryan Spring deserves to be more highly regarded, as he is one of Britain's outstanding drummers. He was still playing brilliantly when I heard him recently. He has a thrusting style and may be one of the loudest drummers outside heavy metal, but a forceful drummer is just what a group like this needs to keep up the impetus and (dare I say it?) sheer exhilaration.

Agitato Sympatico is rather like a Charles Mingus composition, with a shrieking saxophone over dislocated rhythms which threaten to become anarchic at one point. Fraggie Bar Waltz begins with pianistic fireworks from Tracey leading into a bouncy waltz. Stan Tracey's piano also opens Timespring, in which the octet falls silent while the two tenorists overlap one another in a kind of wild counterpoint - one of the many highspots in this album. Bryan Spring supplies a masterly drum solo. The 19 minutes of Chiffik seem to have been improvised entirely on the spot. It starts with a remarkably varied piano solo from Stan, and then Peter King's alto quotes from Old Devil Moon and the other musicians join in freely, developing a three-note riff which becomes the basis for much of the following improvisation. It all makes better sense than most "free improv".

The Salisbury Suite is equally mesmerising, with the same level of inspiration and perspiration from Stan and the band. Jeff Daly replaces Peter King as the group's altoist but otherwise the personnel is the same. Peg-Leg Bates includes a splendid trumpet solo from Harry Beckett in a piece which might be described as "funky". Ballad for St. Ed takes the tempo down for a rather poignant tune, featuring reflective piano from the leader and some stirring ensembles from the octet. Jeff Daly's alto solo is also noteworthy. The final track, the 28-minute Miff, opens with a sturdy bass solo from Dave Green leading into a swinging up-tempo tune which features another virtuosic drum solo from Bryan Spring and a gloriously mischievous solo from Tracey.

The remastered sound is remarkably good and, even though this album comes at full price, it is worth getting as a memorable record of an illustrious octet.
Tony Augarde





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