During his time as house pianist at Ronnie Scott’s Club in the 60s, Stan Tracey elevated thinking on his feet to an art form. No matter what the great and (sometimes not so) good at the front of the stage threw his way, he took it in his stride. Sonny Rollins, when being interviewed by the
Whilst some undoubtedly did, like most in
Originally released as a single album (two tracks per side) under his own Steam label in 1975, this 2 CD reissue comes with a whopping extra seven unreleased pieces totalling over an hour’s worth of music per CD. To say that you get a lot of bang for your buck is an understatement.
By the time they rolled up at London’s 100 Club, Tracey, then just shy of 50, had assembled a truly world-class quartet of dazzling power that didn’t so much throw caution to the wind as fire it headlong from a cannon.
Throughout the album, bassist Dave Green, drummer
Like all of the truly great outfits in jazz it’s the almost unnerving telepathic group-think that enables them to turn on a dime at break-neck speed which causes the thrills and spills. Themen’s soprano skims like a stone across the ever rolling surface of See Meenah demonstrating just how tight this unit is as they grasp a melodic fragment, develop and extend in a flash.
Just when you think it must be done and dusted, on the title track they find an opportunity to touch on a classic Love Supreme vibe in the dying seconds. It’s a bit like watching one of those enormous shoals of fish executing impossible hairpin turns whilst maintaining impeccable formation. Jaw-dropping stuff.
They’ll Call Us blasts along, reinventing the cool pulse of Milestones into something altogether more savage yet holding onto its classy élan. As Tracey stabs and punches into the driving rhythm, Themen etches and scrapes the melody, apparently hollowing it from the very air around him.
It’s a perfect example of that unspoken facility where players simply know what’s needed and where things should go next. Green's bass solo in the barnstorming Lues:Encore Blues is a devastating show-stealer and he constantly nudges and pushes Bryan Spring's blistering work behind the drums. With support like this, there's no telling where they might end up. Mostly it means pushing the material just about as far as it can go before it smears and blurs into atonal territory.
Essentially rooted in a straight ahead sensibility it never takes long for the group to sail to the very edges. Tease n’ Freeze starts conventionally enough – a decorative 12-bar – but quickly shakes this skin aside to reveal something more risky and ferocious whilst maintaining an unwavering foot-tapping time.
Constant Pud slows the pace down a beguiling modal waltz-time and if it’s ballads you’re after then look no further than Doin’ It For Art – a wonderfully sensuous vehicle for Themen’s more sensitive side. Quite how this beautiful song is not regarded as a modern standard is beyond me. According to the sleeve notes, Themen only recalls only ever playing this tune once, confirming that the Tracey songbook contains an embarrassment of riches waiting to be exploited
Whether he’s splintering notes into white-hot sparks as a soloist or detonating explosive chords, each packed filled with dozens of possible directions, Tracey dominates throughout. Though he would later record several free improvisation albums with the likes of Keith Tippett and Evan Parker, it’s in confines of his beloved rhythm and changes where he finds true freedom of expression.
Viscerally alive and kicking, Captain Adventure represents a seamless performance where it’s impossible to discern the join between what’s composed and improvised. It’s doubtful that players as in-tune with each as these would be interested in the distinction anyway. It’s not about where things begin or end. It’s about the journey, the adventure itself. And what an adventure this is.
You can get this album directly from Tentoten Records.