Stan Fracey, Barbican, London

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The Independent Culture

Longevity is not particularly associated with the lifestyle of a jazz musician, especially one who has played smoke-filled clubs and lounges regularly through the decades: a minority have pushed beyond threescore years and ten. Which gives us at least one reason to be cheerful: Stan Tracey, at 81, is still vibrantly with us and can fill the Barbican with people who know his worth.

Tracey came on-stage to a rousing reception here and spoke in a series of asides worthy of his old friend Ronnie Scott. He kicked things off with a nod towards one of his personal icons, Duke Ellington, delivering a swinging trio version (with son Clark on drums) of "It Don't Mean a Thing", the only non-original composition of the night.

With that concluded, five more musicians filed on-stage to form the Stan Tracey Octet. This group breezed through a series of swinging Tracey compositions such as "Newk's Fluke" and "The Cuban Connection", the former containing an expressive trombone solo from Mark Nightingale. The Octet played for about 45 minutes before conceding the stage to the much-heralded Stan Tracey/Keith Tippett piano duet.

The two men began an exploration of each other's responses and creativity that was gripping at every stage. Tippett initially took the lead, starting off with soft chords, then short patterns, before Tracey entered with discreet but telling repeated octaves. Both continued to come back to this device of repeated octaves, to wonderful effect, through a 20-minute joint improvisation that covered vast stylistic and imaginative territory and was consistently of the highest calibre. Together the two men proved to be the evening's highlight.

The second half of the recital was given over entirely to the Stan Tracey Big Band, which performed a recent Tracey work, The Genesis Suite. The writing reflected the composer's deep love of Ellington and Thelonious Monk as well as his sure grasp of jazz arranging, but, strong as the 50-minute, six-part suite was, it didn't electrify the listener as the Tracey-Tippett duet had, perhaps due to the many solos by band members stretching the individual pieces out of shape.

To bring the evening to a close, the self-deprecating pianist played a reflective solo piece he announced as "Little Man, You've Had a Big Day". We could all agree with that.

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