Clark Tracey’s Ruby Anniversary Quintet, 8 February 2019

Nadim Teimoori – tenor sax

Sean Payne – alto sax
Elliott Sansom – piano
James Owston – bass
Clark Tracey – drums

Perhaps the worst thing one could say of a jazz drummer is that he is predictable, but after 40 years of playing and leading bands, the only thing that’s predictable about a Clark Tracey gig is that it will be high octane and superbly played. Also his standing in the jazz world ensures that he can attract the very best of the new generation of musicians, so we all knew we were in for a treat.

With flu having got the better of the expected trumpeter, Clark recruited Nadim Teimoori on tenor, to make up a two-sax front line with the remarkable Sean Payne on alto.  At first, it seemed that one’s playing would be ‘cool’ (Nadim) and the other ‘hot’ but their contrasts and similarities would not be so easily categorised.  What they had in common was a passionate expressiveness—powerful, but full of nuance and unexpected turns, made possible by refined technique and alert responsiveness. Nadim has a seemingly effortless ability to move rapidly between registers and stylistic voices without once losing his footing; and his second-set exchanges with pianist Elliott Sansom were an explosive and apparently spontaneous outburst that appeared to surprise both of them.  Sean Payne’s alto playing was among other things an outstanding demonstration of playing in the altissimo range. Many an able saxophonist will reach those notes, much as if name-checking them and then retreat to the safety of the middle register. Sean reached the dizzy heights and then had a frolic, improvising around notes that are difficult to hit cleanly, let alone sustain. He was no less impressive across the entire range.  But above all, both Sean and Nadim were articulate, passionate and restlessly inventive.

Elliott’s piano was fascinating to watch as well as to hear. His was ‘two fisted’ piano playing at its best—not only in the octave runs, but also in the facility of his left-hand, which is at the heart of his quite individual sound. And when has crossed-hands technique ever been deployed more ably or to better musical effect?

James Owston had the clarity and precision of a classically trained bass player, with the musical acuity and sensitivity of an improvising musician. His lengthy, solo introduction to ‘All Blues’ was a top-drawer piece of musical invention—a highlight of the evening; and his playing throughout was a distinct pleasure.

And after all these years, what can be said of Clark Tracey’s drumming that hasn’t been said endlessly? Modern drumming with an old-fashioned sense of swing? A ‘voice’, a style that is immediately recognizable and unique in jazz? A consummate musician? All of these things and more.  To which one might add: yet another fine piece of talent spotting, creating a brilliant band.

‘What’s on Next? >



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