Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Stan the Man

A jazz national treasure in the U.K., pianist, composer and bandleader Stan Tracey couldn't be less known across the pond. His career now stretches a good half century-plus, with -- so I've read -- acclaimed work for all manner of jazz ensembles. Not that I've heard 99% of it. But the little that has crossed my path has been arresting, beckoning me to investigate further. Tracey's 1965 musical adaptation of Dylan Thomas's "Under Milk Wood" may be his best known work. Again, my knowledge of all this is far too sketchy. I haven't heard the entire album, but if it's consistent in quality with "Starless and Bible Black," it must be one gorgeous recording.
On this languid ballad, Tracey himself takes a back seat to his tenor saxophonist, one Bobby Wellins, who is appropriately suggestive rather than assertive. Whether the performance suits Thomas's literary thrust is immaterial in light of its stand-on-its-own beauty. Sounding, in the best possible manner, like a memorable film theme, a la Jerry Goldsmith's near perfect credit music for Chinatown, "Starless and Bible Black" makes me want to produce a movie just so Tracey's glorious work could accompany it.

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