Clark Tracey Sextet. London, August 2009.

I went to Ronnie Scott’s last night – the first time in, oh, over thirty years. OK, I lived out of London for a lot of that time, but when I have been living in London, Ronnie’s just wasn’t that attractive: expensive and late.

It has changed hands and been refurbished recently, and for the past couple of weeks it has been hosting an all-British programme. I thought this might be to fill some empty nights during the quiet summer season; given the popularity of this series of gigs, I couldn’t have been more wrong: there were four gigs in the series that I wanted to see, and three of them were sold out before I was able to book tickets. This says a lot about the audience for British jazz: for British acts to be able to sell out two weeks at Ronnie’s suggests the music is in very rude health indeed.

Last night was the one gig I was able to make. Like most of the series, it was a double bill: Clark Tracey, who I really wanted to see, and Lee Gibson, who I hadn’t seen before (and didn’t even know what they played).

After an entertaining but rather strange jazz quiz (the set times were clearly stated on the Ronnie Scott’s website as starting at 7pm – so why didn’t the music start until after eight?), Lee Gibson opened the evening. She is a vocalist in classic “cocktail jazz” Broadway-style “All American songbook” fashion. I don’t really like vocalists – they get in the way of the real action, for me – and whilst the audience was appreciative, I could have done without this set. Gibson had a fine band though, including Martin Drew on drums (…who I first saw play thirty five years ago – he gave me some drum lessons!), Andy Panayi on flute and alto sax (sorry, I didn’t catch the names of the pianist and bassplayer…).

By chance, I was sitting at the bar next to Sylvia Rae Tracey, the London scion of the Edinburgh jazz clan and herself a jazz singer; in between gossiping about the Edinburgh jazz scene and finding out what her errant brother was up to, we talked about jazz singing and why I didn’t like it.

Clark Tracey – billed as a quartet but appearing as a sextet (which means a 50% bonus!) – was excellent. It was a young band, Tracey taking on the mantle of mentor much as Art Blakey did with the Jazz Messengers, and energetic with it. Aside from Tracey, I’d not seen any of the musicians before: this was essentially the band on his latest CD, Current Climate, but with Leon Greening on piano depping for Kit Downes. The other players joining Tracey were Paul Jordanous (trumpet), Piers Green (saxes), Lewis Wright (vibes), and Ryan Trebilcock (bass).

Tracey’s drumming was energetic and subtle, and the frontline of Jordanous, Green and Wright produced some excellent solos. (Jordanous was complaining during the interval that he wasn’t playing at all well; I thought he was playing pretty well – so I really look forward to hearing him when he thinks he’s on form!) The vibes particularly worked well, meshing rather conflicting with the piano.

They played a variety of numbers, many off Current Climate, but also going way back in Tracey’s catalogue with Sliperstones – it had aged well – as well as (I think) One by One, by Wayne Shorter.

This was a really good set – I couldn’t stay for the second half, which was a shame: like I said, I’d have preferred an earlier start and less of the quizzing…

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