Stan Tracey Octet ‘The Early Works’ 2CD (Resteamed) 4/5

As part of the ongoing series of re-issues comes the latest instalment of classic Stan Tracey sides. This focuses on live recordings from the mid to late 1970s, with the leader’s compositional skills to the fore, and captures Tracey and the larger ensembles in top form. By this period Stan Tracey had completed his long stint as house pianist at Ronnie Scott’s and was beginning to explore freer jazz forms in both duet and larger ensemble formats. Comprising three separate recordings, the one on CD2 features a set from the Salisbury Arts festival. The octet formation was born out of three commissioned pieces for the festival and showcases a mouthwatering line up of British jazz from the era including trumpeter Harry Beckett and reed players Trevor Watts, Alan Skidmore and Don Weller respectively. Of the extended numbers, ‘Peg-leg Bates’ impresses with its heavy emphasis on swing while ‘Ballad for St. Ed’ reveals the influence once more of Ellington in Tracey’s playing. The line up would be modified slightly on other dates with bassist Dave Green and saxophonist Peter King featuring among others.

The first CD from an earlier concert at Bracknell is more blues-inflected while being in the post-bop style and is characterised by a winning combination of stabbing horns and melodic compositions. Excellent saxophone solos and highly improvised piano intros make for highly enjoyable listening with a bonus being the unreleased encore of ‘Chiffik’. 2009 will see Tracey revisit some of the octet suites and if this is a taster of what is to come it should prove be both essential viewing and listening in the new year. A previous BBC Omnibus documentary featured the octet formation during the original period.

Tim Stenhouse