ukjazz

Stan Tracey Quartet ‘Under Milk Wood: Jazz Suite’

Imagine Thelonious Monk’s 60s quartet attempting a mellow, modal, ‘Kind of Blue’-esque album, occasionally infused with a quirky, British sense of humor. Now imagine something even better than that. Go right to the standout track “Starless and Bible Black,” which has been called one of the greatest British jazz tracks ever (for good reason). This is a truly unforgettable performance, seductive and evocative. It sets quite a a mood—the night is shrouded in mystery, and one can choose to embrace the darkness with all its uncertainties, or close the shutters to its risks and remain in the safe, warm light of home. Compositional credit goes to pianist and leader Stan Tracey, but the hero of this particular track is tenor saxophonist Bobby Wellins, whose solo could go toe-to-toe with any of the great tenorists from the US jazz scene in that stellar year of 1965. Spectacular. The rest of the album is of uniformly high quality, though it’s tough to compete with “Starless and Bible Black,” which is just one of those rare jazz tracks that transcend the top shelf. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention stellar bass performances by Jeff Clyne and excellent drumming by Jack Dougan. Overall, there’s a relaxed vibe to many of the tracks here, but don’t confuse that with laziness. This quartet is in it to win it, even if they choose not to drive in the fast lane often. There are several different vinyl pressings, ranging from “semi-affordable, and findable if you’re willing to put in the effort” to “if I find a M- copy, I’ll have to re-mortgage the house and sell the children for scientific experiments” *BUT* happy news! It is readily available digitally. You can listen RIGHT NOW! This copy is a 1969 pressing of the 1965 Landsdowne session Columbia/EMI SCX 3589, stereo. PS—This “Starless and Bible Black” has nothing to do with King Crimson AT ALL…sorry to disappoint you, my fellow prog rockers

Prince Lasha Ensemble ‘Insight’

Farewell London! It was a VERY memorable 36 hours. Feels appropriate to leave with another memorable UK session—a rare “in the box” session from Prince Lasha (alto sax/flute) who was living in Kensington in 1966 mixing it up with a British jazz cast including Stan Tracey & Mike Carr (piano); Rick Laird, Jeff Clyne, Bruce Cale & Dave Willis (bass); John Mumford (trombone), Joe Oliver (drums) and Chris Bateson (trumpet). However the SECRET SAUCE of the session is Dave Snell on harp which elevates this collection of standards and two Lasha originals into something truly special. It’s wild how the harp sounds so unexpected yet it fits perfectly. This is an amazing record, and for those who’ve struggled a bit with Lasha’s more challenging, edgy work (like the masterful follow-up ‘Firebirds’ with Sonny Simmons) this is something you could easily play without clearing the room. Much to my surprise, this session was for a big player—CBS Records UK (CBS-BPG 62409, stereo, issued 1966) though it never saw US release. The vinyl is elusive, the 2009 Dusty Groove CD reissue is around and a reasonable alternative. The two Lasha originals are the standout tracks but everything is really well played. Recommended

Don Rendell Ian Carr Change Is

Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet ‘Change Is’

Toto, we’re not in Landsdowne anymore. Well, OK we are, but this record shows that we’ve come quite a distance from where we started with ‘Shades of Blue’. ‘Change Is…’ would be the fifth and final album from the Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet. At this point, they’d developed a bit of seven-year itch (after only five years!) and had decided to “see other people”…we all know how that usually ends. Rendell would soon form his own outfit and Carr would spin up his groundbreaking proto-fusion combo Nucleus. Yet they clearly had enough fuel in the tank for another go as the RCQ, augmented by a few guests: Mike Pyne (piano), Jeff Clyne (bass), Stan Robinson (sax) and Guy Warren (percussion); joining the core quintet of Carr (trumpet/flugelhorn), Rendell (tenor/soprano sax, flute), Michael Garrick (piano), Dave Green (bass) & Trevor Tompkins (drums). The music here builds upon their British take on modal/hard bop developed over the past four records, retaining an audible measure of swing but adding even more colors to the sonic palette (world music anyone?) while taking more liberties with rhythm and structure. One only has to hear the sinewy, contrapuntal bass dance between Dave Green and Jeff Clyne (another example of a “are those cobras fighting or fucking?” moments) to know that if this was their swan song, they were going out on a high. And hey…after five great-to-brilliant records and a LOT of guts in being the first British jazz act to cut all-original material in an increasingly jazz-unfriendly landscape, they went out on top. Well played gents. So high marks for playing, compositions AND this Jazzman reissue, now widely available after some initial stock shortages earlier this year. It’s a near-exact replica of an original, and at around $25US for an excellent transfer from the masters, it’s a great buy vs the $800 the last one in mint condition sold for on eBay. Also available digitally. Highly recommended, though those new to the Rendell/Carr Quintet or British jazz in general are advised to start with ‘Shades of Blue’ first, then ‘Dusk Fire @jazzmanrecords

Tubby Hayes ‘Grits, Beans and Greens’

If 2018 was the year of @johncoltrane regarding “lost”, previously unreleased albums, 2019 belongs to Tubby Hayes. A key difference: the ‘Trane release was noteworthy, this Hayes record is EXTRAORDINARY. Recorded nearly 50 years ago with 3/4 of the quartet that produced his greatest small combo work ‘Mexican Green’, this session disappeared into a perfect storm of bad timing, record company politics/incompetence, and Hayes’ own life falling to pieces. In many cases, lost/unreleased works are generally so for a reason, and then when miraculously found, they’re unreasonably hyped. In fact I can hear eyes rolling already. Let me assure you, this is NOT the case here. With the notes from Hayes’ own diary as a guide, the best of the session tapes were culled down to five essential tracks, with one LP side devoted to Hayes originals, the other sporting Duke Pearson and Cy Coleman compositions, this is a BEAST of a follow-up to his greatest studio work, and in many places rivals it. Sonically, it sounds even BETTER, with @gearboxrecords overseeing an all-analog cut using vintage gear with incredible results. There’s still a vibe of ‘Trane’s ‘Giant Steps’ in the quartet’s overall approach, though as renown Hayes historian Simon Spillett’s excellent liner notes suggest, the influence of Joe Henderson is also palpable. The blend works EXCELLENTLY. While Hayes is clearly front & center (and in ‘69 he still had plenty of his legendary, formidable chops), the rest of the quartet is mighty in their own right, including newcomer Spike Wells (drums) joining longtime Hayes cohorts Mike Pyne (piano) and Ron Mathewson (bass). The complete unreleased sessions are also available as a double CD and on digital platforms, also worth hearing for the “alternate” version of the quartet which swaps out Pyne & his piano for Irish guitarist Louis Stewart. A contender for archival jazz release of the year—simply fantastic. As the title ‘Grits, Beans and Greens’ suggests, this is very American sounding jazz…Hayes has a deep respect and fascination with the US jazz scene and you can hear it