Clark Tracey Quintet: Introducing Emily Masser

Singer Emily Masser is foregrounded in a modern mainstream set that also features the newly feted saxophonist Alex Clarke


Clark Tracey, mainstay of the British jazz scene continues his promotion of young talent with this album featuring the young vocalist Emily Masser. In this set, recorded at Olly and Elliott Sansom’s studio in Birmingham, he has the experienced pianist Graham Harvey, whose work with the singer Stacey Kent is well-known, saxophonist Alex Clarke and bassist James Owston, who has worked with Tracey for the last five years or so.

Of course, the spotlight is on Masser, and rightly so. Her range, variation and seemingly effortless delivery reflect a confidence and ability which belie her years. She has clear diction and articulation, handling up tempo numbers and ballads well, and with an assured approach to scatting she thankfully avoids the exaggeration and affectation so often a part of that style. A Bitta Bittadose shows this to good effect, as she closely follows the melody in unison with the instruments, unphased by the pace, and so does the opening section of Jimmy Deuchar’s Suddenly Last Tuesday, which Tracey first recorded more years ago that I care to remember.

Alex Clarke is another player associated with the drummer – her quartet, with Tracey, impressed a couple of years ago at Swanage and since then she has established a solid reputation, her ability attested to by her recent inclusion in Simon Spillett’s Big Band. She varies her approach on the album, imposing her presence particularly on Then I’ll Be Tired Of You (richly and breathily segueing into A Time For Love), on The Man I Love, with its interesting arrangement and references to Groovin’ High, and using flute on Passarim, to which Tracey contributes background vocals, combining and harmonising effectively with Masser’s lead.

The rhythm section is also given plenty of room, Harvey notably on A Sleepin’ Bee, Suddenly and The Man I Love. So Near, So Far has him pitching in with an attractive solo and the bass and drums trading a few bars. Owston remains close on hand throughout and also leads in at the very start of the proceedings, a nice Mingusian touch.

An extensive tour is underway from now until June, and is, on the strength of this, something to jot into the diary.

A Bitta Bittadose; A Sleepin’ Bee; Nothing Like You; The Man I Love; Passarim; So Near, So Far; Then I’ll Be Tired Of You / A Time For Love; Suddenly Last Tuesday (51.54)
Masser (v); Alex Clarke (as, ts, f); Graham Harvey (p); James Owston (b); Tracey (d, v). Birmingham, 21 October 2023.
Stray Horn Records SHR002

Matthew Wright added, 27 April 2024:

Tracey line-up re-jigged
Due to unforeseen circumstances, the tour by Clark Tracey’s young quintet has had to be changed. Not wanting to disappoint audiences or cancel an extended itinerary, Tracey has been determined to fulfil the engagements and has managed to secure a change of personnel for the rest of the tour.

The Tin Angel, Coventry gig on Thursday 26 April saw pianist Dave Newton, bassist Mark Adams and altoist R.J. Gilbert joining the drummer, to cover some familiar numbers including Stablemates, Body And Soul and St. Thomas, all delivered with the leader’s usual forthright direction. A couple of father Stan’s compositions were thrown in – A Funky Day In Tiger Bay and Euphony, one of the pianist’s first recordings, from the 1952 Melodisc session with the Victor Feldman All Stars.  My One And Only Love, a choice of Gilbert’s, showed why Tracey rates the young saxophonist so highly.

For the rest of the tour, Tracey and Newton will have saxophonists Art Themen and Simon Allen on board, with long-time associate Andy Cleyndort on bass – a pretty solid line-up by anyone’s standards.