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Stan Tracey: The Flying Pig

Duncan Heining By

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Stan Tracey is one of the most highly regarded British jazz musicians of any era. Doesn't matter who you speak to—fans, critics or fellow musicians such as Guy Barker, John Surman, Evan Parker or Keith Tippett—Tracey's story is, in many ways, the history of post-war British jazz. This new CD, Flying Pig, is more than a reminder of his abilities. Like its predecessor, A Child's Christmas from 2011, it ranks alongside the pianist's best work.

Tracey will be 87 this Christmas but how many near-nonagenarians still play better than cats half their age? On Flying Pig, Tracey's skill at supporting his soloist—a skill that made him first-choice house pianist at Ronnie Scott's Club through the sixties—is to the fore. But when he solos, the ideas just tumble out as if there just isn't enough time to say it all.

The album is inspired by the experiences of Tracey's father in the France during the First World War. Tracey senior was just 18 when he was wounded and captured on the battlefield at Loos. But the record also draws sustenance from the newspaper, Wipers Times, that the soldiers ran from the trenches and which served both to satirise their disastrous circumstances and their cause but also to keep up their often flagging morale. The Flying Pig doesn't wallow in the Flanders mud, so much as revel in the human spirit and will to survive.

"Bouncing Bertha" may well bounce but is a far more airy conception than its 42cm Morser Artillery namesake. Featuring fine solos from Tracey himself, saxophonist Simon Allen and trumpeter Mark Armstrong, it sets the listener nicely for what is to follow. "Weary Willie," its title taken from trench slang for a German shell passing overhead, has a strong shuffling, The Jazz Messengers' feel driven beautifully by drummer Clark Tracey and bassist Andy Cleyndert. Tracey's solo here is a delight-filled confection with its stuttering, skittish lines, while Mark Armstrong's trumpet later matches the master stride for stride.

The Latin, even Caribbean, Rollins-like feel of "Narpoo Rum" is another joy with some excellent rhythm playing from Tracey junior and Cleyndert, whilst the title track just explodes out the barrel. Graced by Simon Allen's incendiary solo, if pigs had wings, this is just how they'd fly—with a kind of awkward elegance. "Silent Percy" closes the set. It opens with brief interludes from Armstrong and Allen with just rhythm before the whole quintet take over for the briskest and perhaps most bravura set of performances on the album, including, not least, son Clark's exceptionally musical drum solo. But it's the gorgeous, heartfelt "Ballad for Loos," dedicated to Tracey's dad, that steals the show. Tender piano with just drums and bass leads into first Mark Armstrong's trumpet, then Simon Allen's limpid soprano and back to the piano. Affection without sentimentality, remembrance without a hint of mawkishness, once again proving, were it needed, that Tracey is one of the world's finest writers for small group. Great War? Bloody disaster. Great record? Too bloody right!

Track Listing: Tracks: Bouncing Bertha; Weary Willie; Narpoo Rum; The Flying Pig; Ballad for Loos; Silent Percy.

Personnel: Personnel: Stan Tracey: Piano, composer; Mark Armstrong: trumpet, fluegelhorn; Simon Allen: saxophones; Andy Cleyndert: bass; Clark Tracey: drums.

Title: The Flying Pig | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Resteamed

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