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    Posted: 13 May 2023 at 1:37am

classic recordings,Stan Tracey Quartet, 'Jazz Suite Inspired by Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood'

by Barney Whittaker 

The highest British entry in Jazzwise’s 100 Jazz Albums That Shook the World (#47), Stan Tracey’s 'Jazz Suite Inspired by Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood ' (1965) is set to receive its first LP-reissue in almost 40 years. 

This was one of the first quartet albums through which British jazz shook off the Americanisms which the genre had clung to and at last began to break new ground. Whether listeners interpret Under Milk Wood simply as an ode to Thomas’ famous radio-play or as more of a direct musical adaptation, the notion of a jazz style suddenly speaking for itself is instantly clear. 

Whatever the case, this slice of sixties swing serves as a programmatic companion piece to Thomas’ work and contains all the hallmarks of a great jazz recording while remaining quintessentially British: there’s terrific interplay, sophisticated elegance, plus an abundance of dry humour and wit. Whilst original vinyl copies – which, nowadays can fetch prices soaring well beyond the triple-figure mark – take their place in most serious jazz collections, this brand new reissue will offer many first-time listeners the chance to familiarise themselves with one of the premier examples of what is coming to be known as ‘the golden period of British jazz’. 

With the impetus for this album having arrived in the midst of Tracey’s tenure as Ronnie Scott’s in-house pianist, Under Milk Wood is rife with musical imagination and depth, in many ways emulating Thomas’ inventive use of language whilst also maintaining its own distinct brand of coolness that could only be traced to mid-sixties-Soho. The compositions themselves possess all the imaginative cheek of Thomas’ original work, from the bouncy drum-call of ‘Cockle Row’ to the Pink Panther-esque bluesy romp of ‘I Lost My Step in Nantucket’. The ghostly ‘Starless and Bible Black’ is a movement unlike any other on the album - or, for that matter, anything in British jazz before. Once heard, never forgotten, this track in particular was reintroduced to the world after DJ Gilles Peterson included it in his compilation, Impressed Vol. 2, in 2004. Taking its name from the play’s opening lines, it is at once a nightmarish lament and a sullen vision of lush melancholia. Quietly spanning the extreme registers of his instrument, Tracey leads the ensemble through delicately balanced passages of light and shade, presenting us with a diamond in one hand and, in the other, coal. 

Each break in the form feels warranted, from individual soli to trading fours, with the characterful sonorities of the musicians’ playing revealed in the same manner that life is breathed into each tableau of Under Milk Wood. As for the players themselves, each of their contributions is notable. Tracey plays just out enough to be considered in, his Ellingtonian pomp dripping with wry Monkisms in a concoction that is entirely his own. Saxophonist Bobby Wellins’ whispery delivery carries the same relaxing charm as any Paul Desmond effort, with the delicate contrast of his own spatial awareness to boot. Jackie Dougan and Jeff Clyne hold it together on drums and bass, respectively, with each given their chance to shine throughout the album’s moments of mellifluous punctuation. 

Such are the vibrant personalities that feature on this record that render it an apt homage to Thomas’ magnum opus. “The music of the spheres is heard distinctly over Milk Wood,” utters one of the narrators, around the drama’s halfway-mark. So too can it be heard in the Tracey Quartet’s unsurpassable performance, which is no more a sentimental pastiche than it is a practical conversation about the direction in which British jazz at the time was headed. 

Jazz Suite Inspired By Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood is reissued via Resteamed Records in a limited run of 1,000 copies on Friday 12th May, 2023.  

Limited one-off pressing of 1000 copies worldwide

Available Format: Vinyl Record

Under Milk Wood in Hamburg 

The Stan Tracey Quartet + Kenny Wheeler

A live rendition of the jazz suite recorded half a year on from the original album's release that includes perhaps Canada's greatest jazz-import, Kenny Wheeler, as a fine addition to the ensemble.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

Barney Whittaker

from www.prestomusic.com

Edited by snobb - 13 May 2023 at 1:38am
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