Stan Tracey Quartet: Under Milk Wood

In a double retrospection, the pianist's renowned suite inspired by Dylan Thomas's poem of the same name is back on vinyl after 40 years

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This rightly revered suite, widely regarded as the best British jazz album ever, receives its first vinyl reissue in nearly 40 years, 58 years after it was recorded. So famed is the album that it’s most commonly referred to as Under Milk Wood (as abbreviated above) rather than by its longer, rather prosaic full title – Jazz Suite Inspired By Dylan Thomas’s “Under Milk Wood”.

It’s been reissued multiple times on various labels including Blue Note International, Jazzizit and Trio Records and on vinyl on Stan’s own label Steam Records which he formed with his wife Jackie in 1976. Steam Records went under at the end of the 1980s but Stan’s son, drummer Clark formed ReSteamed in the late 2000s to reissue a swathe of Stan’s works.

Originally recorded under the aegis of British jazz Svengali Denis Preston at Lansdowne Studios in 1965, the suite is a near-perfect example of what four musicians were capable of at the dawn of the golden age of British jazz. Tracey later recorded a live version but with a different line-up including narration by Donald Houston (RCA, 1976). Clark also released an ultra-rare archival recording of Under Milk Wood in Hamburg (ReSteamed, 2022) recorded at the NDR studios in March 1966. Crucially, here the original line-up was increased to a quintet by the addition of trumpeter Kenny Wheeler.

Amongst these consistently brilliant gems there’s the breezy opener Cockle Row and the haunting, emotionally charged Starless And Bible Black, led by Jeff Clyne’s resonant arco bass and followed by Bobby Wellins’ ruminative tenor. The blues-inflected title track features the severely underrated Wellins again. Tracey carves out the ebullient head to I Lost My Step In Nantucket and the tenor and piano-led melody of Penpals is angular but simultaneously steeped in warmth.

This new release marks 10 years since Tracey’s passing and 70 years since Thomas’s death. The audio was remastered by Clark Tracey and Tristan Powell, the lacquers cut by Caspar Sutton-Jones at the increasingly vital Gearbox Studios.

Incidentally, the original LP was first released in 1965 in mono only (SX 1774) but was subsequently released in stereo (SCX 3589) in 1969. This ReSteamed version is thankfully in glorious stereo with channel separation of the saxophone and piano, as it should be.

Discography
Cockle Row; Starless And Bible Black; I Lost My Step In Nantucket; No Good Boyo; Penpals; Llareggub; Under Milk Wood; A.M. Mayhem (40.48)
Tracey (p); Bobby Wellins (ts); Jeff Clyne (b); Jack Dougan (d). London, 1965.
ReSteamed Records RSJLP001