The second gig was the Stan Tracey Quartet – another band with just saxophone as the solo horn. I love Stan Tracey: when I was discovering jazz, it was hearing Tracey playing in London that helped me make sense of Monk: it was as if Tracey was the missing link between Ellington and Monk, because he sounded like both, simultaneously. (It was only a good while later when I heard the absolutely essential Money Jungle that I realised that, actually, Ellington himself was the missing link between Ellington and Monk: in a trio with Charlie Mingus and Max Roach, Ellington sounds like the most modern of the modernists.) Tracey’s website calls him the “the godfather of British jazz”, and they got that about right.
So I was really looking forward to this gig, although I must admit there was a somewhat morbid reason for going, too: Tracey is now in his eighties, and I simply had to take the opportunity to see him play whilst I could.
The quartet featured Bobby Wellins on tenor; Tracey and Wellins have been playing together for more than forty years. It was themed around Monk, and they covered the repertoire – all one’s favourites. There was a great solo version of Round Midnight; they played In Walked Bud, the onomatopoeic I Mean You; Well You Needn’t; and they finished with a fine version of Rhythm-A-Ning. Wellins led a great version of Monk’s Mood.
Monk’s music is jagged and angular; it sounds like it shouldn’t work – still, after all this time – but it does: the notes fit together and the rhythm somehow meshes. These tunes used to be avant-garde; now they are standards.
The quartet was made up with Stan’s son Clark on drums and bassist Andrew Cleyndart.
Thing is, it was a good set, but it lacked fire. It sounded like they’d been playing the tunes for thirty years, and they knew what was going to happen next. This is hardly surprising – because Tracey and Wellins have been playing these tunes for fifty years. And it did sound good; just not great. It was wonderful to hear the tunes, but there was almost too much familiarity to them now – they have lost the ability to surprise and shock.
It was great to see Tracey and Wellins venture back north, though.