Alice in Jazz Land
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The pianist/composer Stan Tracey is one of the most important figures on the British jazz scene. His career goes back to the 1940s when he played with wartime big bands. He spent a long stint, between 1960 and 1967 as the house pianist at Ronnie Scott's Club, backing most of the American visitors that included Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Lee Konitz and many more. At the same time he was making small and large-group recordings, that included the iconic quartet recording, 'Under Milk Wood', which was the first of the Resteamed re-issue series.
'Alice in Jazz Land', was recorded in 1966 and is now available on CD for the very first time. For the follow-up to 'Under Milk Wood' Tracey chose to write for a big band, that featured some of the leading British jazz musicians of the time: Ronnie Scott, Bobby Wellins, Tubby Hayes, Kenny Wheeler, Alan Branscombe, Kenny Baker and many others.
This session was the first time that Tracey recorded an entire album of his own arrangements for big band. As one of the most `orchestral' pianists in jazz, it is unsurprising that Tracey made full use of the greater variety afforded by the larger instrumentation. These vary from the all out clout of "Murdering The Time", perhaps one of the most perfect examples of a big band in roaring full flight, to the gentle pastel voicings of "Fantasies in Bloom". These extremes are beautifully captured by what must be one of the best recording balances ever achieved on a British big band album.
Personnel: Stan Tracey (piano), Tubby Hayes (tenor saxophone), Kenny Wheeler, Kenny Baker, Eddie Blair, Ian Hamer, Les Condon (trumpets), Keith Christie, Chris Smith, Wally Smith (trombones), Alan Branscombe, Ronnie Baker (alto saxophones), Ronnie Scott, Bobby Wellins (tenor saxophones), Harry Klein (baritone saxophone), Jeff Clyne (double bass), Ronnie Stephenson (drums)
Pianist and composer Stan Tracey is a legendary veteran on the British jazz scene, in his own quiet way, a master musician. Alice In Jazz Land originally released in 1966 is the follow up to Tracey's Under Milk Wood album, one of the best known British jazz albums. It's criminal that Alice! has been unavailable for so long: it's a great record.
A crack team of legendary British players was put together for this session. But Stan himself sets the tone in the first thirty seconds of the title cut with an aggressive, audacious piano intro that makes you sit up and go 'Wow!'. This is an album that exemplifies the classic British big band sound: tart, bright, punchy. But it also pushes the envelope way out with its' confidence and wild musical invention. It's full of fantastic loud, huge, wide chords that are big enough to stick your whole head in.
This album is a much a product of its time as the Beatles' Revolver, and it's no coincidence that it was also recorded at Abbey Road (and beautifully recorded at that). British music and culture was at a zenith, and you can hear the sunshine and swagger in the likes of 'Pig And Pepper' and 'Summer Hallucinations'. 'Afro Charlie Meets The White Rabbit' has a psychedelic edge with outrageous discords and an off the wall arrangement which never meanders or loses focus. The lovely 'Fantasies In Bloom', provides some breathing space. It seems dangerous to single out one player but I particularly love the trumpet section and Kenny Baker's trumpet feature on the intense 'Murdering The Time'.
Right up to the glorious conclusion of 'Portrait of A Queen' there's not a precious second wasted in 38 brilliant minutes. They really don't make 'em like this anymore. Thankfully you can hear 'em again, thanks to Clark Tracey and his programme of reissues of his father's music: truly a labour of love in a very bad world.
Great stuff! --Nick Reynolds
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Top customer reviews
This album demonstrates just why Tracey was Ronnie Scott's house pianist for many years and why so many American visitors rated his abilities. It also shows that he was capable not just of small-group perfection but also of managing the sounds of large-scale units. Although the cover suggests something a little more psychedelic in actual fact this album is a fine statement of the levels that the post-bop big band had reached in the late 60's.
Alice in Jazzland is my favourite Tracey album. It's a big band album from 1966 that has excellent writing from Tracey. A variety of strong soloists appear including Bobby Wellins and Kenny Baker along with brief appearances from Tubby Hayes and a young Kenny Wheeler. The standout track for me has to be the wonderfully manic 'murdering the time' - the title sums it up perfectly. I would definately agree with the liner notes that state that the album is probably the best British big band album - it could certainly give a lot of American big band albums a run for their money as well.
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