There are three generations of Tracey on this album. One is the redoubtable Stan (below), born in south London in 1926, veteran pianist and composer of whom the great Sonny Rollins said back in 1965 after playing with him for two weeks in Ronnie Scott's, "Does anybody know how good he is?"
Another is Clark Tracey, an outstanding drummer in his own right, leader of his own dynamic outfits and bandmate of his father since 1978. And grandson Ben, who reads poetry with an equal verve and absorbtion as his grandfather and father play their instruments.
And the poet, ah the poet … is the wordman with the beautiful Welsh groove, Dylan Thomas. When Stan was younger he bought the records of Dylan reading his poems. I know them well, because I bought them too half a century ago, and they wove their spell on me, not only on the Tracey clan.
Fern Hill used to be my favourite, and as for Stan, hearing them was enough - with Dylan's voice it was as if you didn't need the text.
In 1965 Stan recorded his classic wordless musical version of Thomas's play Under Milk Wood after hearing it on record and changing the words into sonic poems. A Child's Christmas is different because we have both words and notes, with extracts from the text and its stories inspiring the compositions, so we know much more directly the source of the music and we can compare its transformation across genres.
Two other familiar musicians are present - Stan's longtime bass accompanist Andy Cleyndert and the resourceful young tenorist Simon Allen, who made such a potent contribution to Stan's 2010 album, Senior Moment.
After a brief overture Ben reads the story of a Christmas fire in the Protheros' house.
Dylan's pile-up of adjectives portraying the village by the "ice-edged, fish-freezing seas" and the boyhood games of imagining yourselves as Hudson Bay trappers in the snow, with armfuls of snowballs to hurl at the "patient, cold and callous cats." Stan's bubbling theme, Prothero's Dilemma and his brilliantly inventive, repetitious and bouncing solo transmutes Dylan's descriptive glory and when Allen comes snowstorming in, his horn palpitating after Clark's knocking drums, it is as if the joy of discovering a child's snowtime Christmas has come all the way back to us.
How can language and its words elide with the springing notes of jazz? They both carry the messages of sense and outrageous wonder, where the listener is nonplussed by amazed revelation, particularly if the artist forging the words or sounds is either Dylan Thomas or Stan Tracey. And when they are unified it is twice the joy.
Wagging The Bag follows Ben's narration of the snowing Wales childhood, "shaken from whitewashed buckets down the sky," that snow that "swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees," that snow that mysteriously appeared "and grew overnight like a pure and grandfather moss."
As for Wagging the Bag, Allen's tripping runs, Stan's veteran comping and Clark and Andy Cleyndert's snapping rhythm leaps into his solo, the octogenarian is a laughing, romping boy again and the snow has been sent from the skies to give him a relived innocence and bliss passed across genres, so that it falls in a Welsh blustery shower up and down Stan's London and Monkish keys.
Easy For Leonardo follows a passage about a child's Christmas presents, welcome and unwelcome. It has a loping, bluesy tone with Allen's tenor searching the stockings and Stan tightening the corners of his phrases.
Jinks remembers the young Dylan's array of uncles, collarless by the blazing fireside. Allen's notes seem to break parallel pathways to those of Monk's great tenor confrere Charlie Rouse, before it is Stan's turn to open into one of his great recorded solos, stacked with surprise, and Cleyndert adds his unpremeditated gift too.
An essential part of this Christmas feast is Pudding And Mince, with Allen stretching his horn towards the treetops and Stan stretching his jaunty melody with every unexpected note.
Was it Welsh-born trolls who joined in with the boys' doorstep carols? Stan and Allen's pacy solo answers leave it as an enigma and the Overture To Times Past leaves us with Traceys' eternal notes and the evocation of Dylan's unforgettable and "unending smoke-coloured snow."
A warm and beautiful gift for Christmas or for any time of the year. Give it to someone who loves poetical language but who is unsure of jazz, or vice versa, for it shows again how great art treads across forms and categories, and makes its own unity - deep and crisp and even all the way.
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