Stan Tracey albums
Playin in the YardPlayin' in the Yard
Charlie Rouse
with the Stan Tracey Quartet
STEAM [LP] SJ 116
Notes: ©

In September 1983, when Stan Tracey celebrated forty years in the jazz business with a South Bank concert that united not only his best compositions but musical partners ranging from his own generation to Britain's younger adventurers, it was a sharp reminder of just how substantial his contribution has been. But it was a million miles away from a journey down memory lane. Stan Tracey has always played for now - and in his 60th year, the country's most instantly recognisable jazz pianist continues to play with much of the headlong impulsiveness of youth. The years have now knocked the jagged edges off his style, but simply rendered more telling, astute and effective that repertoire of clanging, firebell chords, flailing runs that beneath their deceptive unsteadiness are as surefooted as cats, hammer and anvil accents and at times an unexpectedly bruised reflectiveness on ballads.
This album features all those sides of Stan Tracey, and finds his sidemen in scalding form - but with an additional ingredient. Augmenting the leader's usual quartet for this session was American saxophonist Charlie Rouse, who came to prominence in the 1960's as the horn player in the late Thelonious Monk's group, a job he kept for nearly ten years. An earlier meeting between Rouse and Tracey had worked so well, and Tracey's playing had reminded Rouse of so many of the pleasures of working with Monk, that a recording was always on the cards.
Though Tracey and Rouse were brought together by the spirit of Monk there was, as it turned out, no Monk tune on the session but he existed as an inevitable powerful presence in the way the band plays. Art Themen, long an associate of Stan Tracey's delivers much of his best recorded playing on this album and the contrast between him and Charlie Rouse is apparent from the first tune. Sonny Rollins' exuberant "Playin' in the Yard" opens with a typically twisty, jostling Themen tenor solo (Clark Tracey's relaxed but insistent drums putting wheels under him) and Rouse follows in his more spacious, magisterial style, letting the rhythm work and embroidering it with a handful of deft phrases, a pratice refined over the years with Monk. Stan Tracey follows with a bristling solo, sounding halfway between a barrelhouse pianist and somebody splitting bricks, and bassist Dave Green is punchy, crisp and as rhythmic as a drummer.
The horn players perform beautifully on Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" (Themen eloquent and intense, Rouse soaring like a kite with high alto-like sounds) and adopt a dancing locked horns duo style in "I've Found a New Baby" and in the finale "Wee". Older fans of Stan Tracey will rejoice at the inclusion of his wonderful 1959 skewed blues "Li'l Ol' Pottsville" from the long defunct 'Little Klunk' record (Themen adopts the soprano for this track) and all of the pianist's idiosyncratic keyboard artistry is at work in the staggering descents, thumping chords, sudden silences and woodpecker tapping of his solo on Charlie Rouse's "Li'l Sherrie" - Art solos before Charlie here, an order they also adopt for "Wee", and bassist Roy Babbington playd a vibrant and springy solo.
In 1987, bebop has become virtually a cult again in Britain, a situation that hasn't been witnessed here for thirty years. But though the cult has rightly shot many remarkable young musicians to prominence, it's a pleasure and a privilege to jazz lovers of all ages that Stan Tracey and Charlie Rouse - two men who were in the thick of it the first time around - are still playing as if those years had never passed.