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Saturday, April 11, 2015

GIJF Day One: Stan Tracey’s Under Milk Wood

Bobby Wellins (tenor saxophone), Steve Melling (piano), Andy Cleyndert (double bass), Clark Tracey (drums) & Ben Tracey (narration.)
(Review by Russell/photo courtesy of Ken Drew)
First night of the festival and Hall Two was near, as damn it, full to capacity. No real surprise given that one of the seminal works of British jazz was being revisited by a stellar line-up. Stan Tracey’s Under Milk Wood is fifty. Recorded in 1965, composer Tracey is no longer with us, but the tenor saxophonist on the recording date – Bobby Wellins – continues to perform, his powers undiminished.
The first set featured, effectively, the Bobby Wellins Quartet. The genial Scot clearly took great pleasure in leading an A-list band. Pianist Steve Melling played Melling, a good idea too, as who could emulate Stan Tracey? A fine pianist in his own right, the frame a little fuller, Melling’s flowing lines, light of touch, echoed those of Wellins.
A handful of tunes, forty five minutes flew by. Bass and drums – Andy Cleyndert and Clark Tracey – have worked together for years. The pair look little different from days gone by; Cleyndert now wearing spectacles (his music stand some distance from eyes), Tracey’s hang-dog visage much the same as it’s always been. Set highlights included Lover Man and an achingly good It Never Entered My Mind.
What to say about the Dylan Thomas-inspired work heard second set? The album (the original vinyl issue a collector’s item) has entered British jazz lore. Hearing B Wellins (tenor saxophone) play it live was a privilege. The Tracey family dynasty maintained a connection to the piece – drummer Clark and grandson Ben as narrator. Clark has it in DNA, Ben, word perfect, similarly has inherited the family jazz gene. I Lost My Step in Nantucket is a rarity – a British jazz standard, that’s the hallmark of Under Milk Wood. Thomas’ dark comic verse, delivered impeccably by Ben Tracey, frequently elicited a chuckle in the dimmed auditorium. It was, surely, as the author intended. The jazz was superb; solos punctuated the drama, the audience aware that on this occasion, applause should be reserved for an appropriate pause in the story. Under Milk Wood is a work to be heard on special occasions, this the 50th anniversary year, is one of them. Gateshead Jazz Festival got it right – an ‘I was there’ occasion.
Russell.

2 comments :

Hugh said...

Exellent summary, Russell. I too was pleased that the applause was reserved for those appropriate breaks in the delivery of Under Milk Wood - apart from that one man in the front...

Unknown said...

We've all seen it, heard it and enjoyed it quite a few times - but it still has a freshness when played live to this day. For me, seeing Bobby smile at various points of the prose was priceless. Ken D.

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