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Old Fruitmarket, 23rd June 2010

The last couple of times I’ve seen Stan Tracey I thought he was, if not going through the motions, certainly playing with a lot less intensity than in the seventies and early eighties. But either they were just sub-par gigs or he’s found a new lease of life. At 83, he’s playing with a zest and inventiveness which many players half his age never manage.

Musically, he’s Monk and Ellington’s London soul brother: like them he can say more with one percussive chord or perfectly-selected single note than many pianists can with torrents of empty virtuosity. And like Monk, he writes compositions which combine jagged angularity with catchy tunefulness.

Over the years, Tracey’s managed to get some exceptionally good saxophonists into his band (Bobby Wellins, Art Themen, Don Weller and Peter King among others). His current horn player, Simon Allen, can be added to that list. I’d never heard, or even heard of, him before, but I thought he was excellent. Apparerently he plays a range of saxophones, but at this concert he stuck to alto. Both he and Tracey played with an energy and joie de vivre which was, at times, exhilarating. It was serious music, but they sounded as if they were having fun playing it.

If there was one downside to the concert, it was that virtually every piece featured a bass solo, or a drum solo, or both. I’m afraid I think that there are only a handful of bassists and drummers who can consistently produce interesting solos, and neither Andrew Clyndert or Clark Tracey belong to that select few. They were more than adequate accompanists but didn’t really hold my attention in their solo spots.

The set was almost entirely made up of Stan’s own compositions: a few newer ones, plus several from his extensive back catalogue, including the calypso-like “Triple Celebration”, “Afro-Charlie Meets the White Rabbit” and his Thelonious Monk tribute “Rocky Mount”. For the last couple of numbers, the quartet were joined by Tom McNiven on trumpet and Martin Kershaw on second alto for lively run-throughs of Monk’s “I Mean You” and “Bright Mississippi”.

Years ago, after playing a series of concerts accompanied by Tracey, Sonny Rollins famously asked the UK jazz public “does anybody here know how good he really is?”. By now we do, but it’s good to be reminded every now and again. Stan Tracey. One of the greats.

Reviews in the Herald and Scotsman