JJ 04/84: Stan Tracey’s Under Milk Wood at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Forty years ago Simon Adams enjoyed an anniversary reprise of Tracey's 1965 suite, even if the music had bugger all to do with Dylan Thomas. First published in Jazz Journal April 1984


To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the first radio broadcast of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, the Stan Tracey Quaret plus narrator dug up Tracey’s jazz suite inspired by the play (first recorded in 1965).

The music is unmistakably Tracey – accessible, immediate rhythms set up by band and then disrupted by Tracey’s angular piano lines, strong, piano-led melodies, and at times, intense lyricism, and plenty of solo space. The narrator linking the eight pieces of the suite together, backed often by some slow blues vamping, brought the whole suite to life, uniting its disparate parts and linking the differing themes together.

Themen’s soloing, especially on the slow pieces like Starless And Bible Black where his tenor sounded like a soprano, was as ever lyrical and well crafted, hard and vibrant where necessary, and Tracey, hunched over the piano, produced a succession of Monk-like contributions that threw in new ideas and tossed around old ones. Clark Tracey’s drumming I have always found somewhat predictable, but there is no faulting his time keeping and pace, being unobtrusive where necessary, and prominent when required.

My only quibble with the suite is a rather fundamental one. Tracey concentrated in his writing on the jazz and not on the poetry. Fine music it most certainly is, but quite what the music has got to do with Under Milk Wood or Llareggub is not clear. Bugger all (if you will excuse the literary pun), I would suggest.