Six years before he defined a new British style of jazz, the pianist and composer was already out on his own
Everyone knows by now that a distinctively British style of jazz emerged in the 1960s, and it’s often said that Stan Tracey’s Under Milk Wood suite (1965) was its first unmistakable masterpiece. The 1959 Sessions, from a tape recently unearthed during a studio clear-out, is six years pre-masterpiece but welcome nonetheless. As both pianist and composer, Tracey developed his style under the twin influences of Ellington and Monk. This set him apart from the usual run of modern jazz in the 50s, and there was always the slight doggedness of the loner about him.
Of the eight tracks here, three are standard songs, one a venerable jazz number and four are Tracey originals. The songs bring out the Monkishness – displaced accents, sudden excursions into unlikely keys – all performed with faultless accuracy. The originals are more intriguing, because in each one the improvised solos grow inseparably out of the tune. The best of the lot, for me, is the splendid, up-tempo Pitter, Patter, Panic. Technically, it’s not a perfect recording, even for 1959, but it shows that, by the start of the 60s, Tracey was already a force to be reckoned with.