Clark Tracey Quintet
REVIEW – by Trudie Squires
DRUMMER Tracey, having to bring in a replacement for his quintet’s regular pianist, Zoe Rahman (double-booked to play a gig in Dundee), invited along the incomparable Steve Melling, who was an integral part of his first quintet, way back in 1986 – a band that included such luminaries as Guy Barker, Jamie Talbot and Alec Dankworth. And what a choice it proved to be; Melling is one of the UK’s most comprehensively gifted jazz pianists, with a tremendous technique and a seemingly endless profusion of ideas. Indeed, his performance could have dominated the gig had it not been for the absolute professionalism and musicianship of Tracey’s current front line; consisting of Mark Armstrong, a devastatingly brilliant horn man with a crackling, fat tone on both trumpet and flugelhorn and the equally talented Simon Allen, playing tenor and alto saxophones. His tenor sound was big toned and sinewy, but it seemed the alto sax was his chosen instrument. Simon’s contributions on the smaller instrument highlighted his rich, warm sound and neat, tightly compacted phrasing. In the rhythm department, complementing Tracey’s neat, effervescent drumming was Peter Billington, a tower of strength on double bass. The soloists could lean back on his reliable bottom line, delivered with an organic, woody tone; he soloed with amazing dexterity throughout the gig. On Coltrane’s Mr. PC, he was featured playing electric bass.
Clark took the opportunity of Melling’s presence to play from some of the quintet’s 1980s arrangements, mixed in with standards from the Blue Note stable. Many were Melling originals, written for the quintet’s appearance in the 1988 Shropshire Jazz Festival and were new to the two front-liners, but they showed their mettle with faultless execution of the unfamiliar charts. Highlights were Mark Armstrong’s wonderful trumpet feature on Body And Soul, played as a duo with Steve Melling; Simon Allen’s meticulous, probing alto on Nippon Soul; and the tremendous piano from Melling throughout the whole gig. Another flashback to 1986 was a flag-waving version of Jimmy Deuchar’s Suddenly Last Tuesday, taken at a terrific tempo, with great solos all round, finishing with an explosive, Art Blakey style drum solo from the leader. As an encore the quintet played Miles Davis’ Freddie Freeloader, achieving the indigo blue sound of the original version, with Melling’s classic blues lines, Armstrong’s hot, sweet muted trumpet and Allen’s richly verdant alto.