At 81 this year, it is easy to understand why pianist Stan Tracey is so widely considered the elder statesman of British jazz. Although his age may well be a factor in this sort of categorisation, tonight’s Barbican performance proved that his position at the top of the jazz food chain is rightly due to the sheer breadth and quality of his compositions.
Tracey’s Octet played four numbers first and did a great job of warming up the crowd with a variety of swinging tunes, including ‘Nuke’s Fluke’ a song dedicated to Sonny Rollins – an artist Tracey played with when he was a permanent fixture in Ronnie Scott’s house-band back in the 1960s. A highlight of this first section though being a wonderful duel between the two tenormen during ‘Time Spring’: the interplay between these outstanding musicians was a joy to watch
By far the most anticipated section of this evening’s generous concert was the reunion of Tracey with the pioneering avant-garde pianist Keith Tippett after 15 years apart. Facing each other on separate grand pianos, the pair created sonic soundscapes and textural pastures in four movements. Evocative, moody and at times a little eerie, these men captivated the audience with their suspense and apocalyptic drama.
However, the evening drew to a close in the safe hands of the Stan Tracey Big Band, who performed ‘The Genesis Suite’, a score written during the 1980s jazz revival. The seven movements raced along at a great pace and with the typically Ellingtonian arrangements from the outset, the piece had a definite touch of class about it. Stand out performances from trumpeter and long time Tracey collaborator, Guy Barker, as well as the young and hugely talented saxophonist Simon Allan, made the event drip with professionalism.
Tonight Tracey carried out his statesman role with dignity and proved that even at 81 years of age he is still capable of a world class performance.