Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


Clark Tracey Quintet

Introducing Emily Masser

by Ian Mann

March 19, 2024


This may be a showcase for the emerging vocal talent that is Emily Masser but it’s also a great band recording with all the members of the quintet contributing hugely to the success of the album.

The Clark Tracey Quintet

“Introducing Emily Masser”

(StrayHorn Records SHR002)

Clark Tracey – drums, backing vocals, Emily Masser – lead vocals, Alex Clarke – alto & tenor saxes, flute, Graham Harvey – piano, Rhodes,  James Owston – double bass

Drummer and composer Clark Tracey (born 1961) first came to the attention of jazz audiences in the 1980s as a member of a series of groups led by his late father, the much missed pianist and composer Stan Tracey (1926-2013).

Although never as prolific a writer as Stan the younger Tracey has composed some strong tunes of his own and has been leading his own groups since 1986. Initially he played with members of his jazz peer group, such as trumpeter Guy Barker, saxophonist Jamie Talbot and pianist Steve Melling,  but in recent years his bands have seen him nurturing the talents of younger musicians, earning him something of a reputation as “The British Art Blakey”. Among those to have passed through the ranks of Tracey’s groups are pianists Zoe Rahman Kit Downes and Rueben James, vibraphonist Lewis Wright and bassist Daniel Casimir, all now well established names on the UK jazz scene and beyond.

Tracey’s latest quintet features three more rising stars, saxophonist and flautist Alex Clarke, bassist James Owston and vocalist Emily Masser, whose singing is highlighted throughout the course of this new release.

Clarke is a composer and bandleader in her own right and released her debut album “Only A Year” in 2022, a recording that features her leading a stellar quartet of highly experienced musicians, pianist David Newton, bassist Dave Green and Tracey at the drums. The album is reviewed elsewhere on these web pages, as are a number of Clarke’s live performances. She is a musician who has become a very popular and in demand presence on the UK jazz scene.

A graduate of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire bassist James Owston has been a member of previous Clark Tracey groups and I have also heard him performing with saxophonist Xhosa Cole, trombonist Dave Sear and drummer Gaz Hughes. Owston is a former BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year finalist and is a superb technician, an immaculate time keeper and an inspired bass soloist.

Vocalist Emily Masser is a new name to me, and probably to many other jazz listeners, but the twenty year old has attracted the attention and approval of such jazz luminaries as fellow vocalists Claire Martin and Liane Carroll in addition to Tracey himself. It’s astonishing to think that she is still a student at London’s Guildhall School of Music, where she is studying both singing and saxophone. If the Masser name sounds familiar it is because she is the daughter of the respected saxophonist Dean Masser, a musician who has also appeared on the Jazzmann web pages as a member of groups led by drummer Gaz Hughes and fellow saxophonist Alan Barnes. Dean has also worked with Clark Tracey, hence the connection.

The quintet is completed by pianist Graham Harvey, a more mature musician whose exemplary playing has been heard in groups led by saxophonists Derek Nash,  Dave and Judith O’Higgins and bassist Geoff Gascoyne, among others. He has also worked with vocalists Wilma Baan and Stacey Kent.

I think I’m correct in believing that this is the first of Tracey’s solo releases to feature a vocalist quite so prominently, but Tracey is no stranger to working with singers, having appeared on numerous releases by both Claire Martin and the late, great Tina May (1961-2022).

The new album commences with “A Bitta Bittadose”, written by the US alto saxophonist and former Jazz Messenger Bobby Watson. It is introduced by a highly impressive passage of unaccompanied double bass from Owston, who eventually establishes a groove that the rest of the quintet respond to, the full band kicking in and swinging ferociously with Masser’s soaring wordless vocals surfing the wave with a remarkable maturity and confidence. The singer then hands over to Clarke for the first instrumental solo, the saxophonist exhibiting a similar assurance and fluency. Masser returns for another bout of bravura scat singing, powered by Tracey’s crisp and authoritative drumming, the cymbals positively fizzing. Harvey, the band’s other ‘old head’ delivers a concise piano solo before Masser’s voice is featured for a third time, but it’s not just about the singer, this attention grabbing opener is also a superb group performance.

Masser displays a different side of her talent on the song “A Sleepin’ Bee”, composed by Harold Arlen and with lyrics written by the author Truman Capote. A gently lyrical introduction features the duo of Masser and pianist Harvey before the full band come in and lift the tempo, taking the music into more familiar bebop territory. Masser sings with an impressive maturity on the quiet intro before displaying great fluidity and adventurousness on the swooping up-tempo sections. Clarke and Harvey again excel as instrumental soloists, with each stretching out expansively as Tracey and Owston continue to supply a swingingly propulsive rhythmic groove. The leader is then featured with a series of volcanic, Blakey-esque drum breaks before Masser returns to steer things home with a brief vocal reprise.

The Bob Dorough / Fran Landesman song is delivered above a rolling, undulating groove with Masser’s audacious interpretation of the lyrics augmented by the melodic instrumental soloing of Harvey, Clarke and Owston.

Introduced by Harvey at the piano and with Clarke featuring on powerful, Coleman Hawkins influenced tenor sax the quintet’s surprisingly robust and daring arrangement of the Gershwin song “The Man I Love” has attracted a good deal of critical acclaim, and rightly so. The song is performed at an uncharacteristically fast pace, with Masser delivering yet another stunningly adventurous vocal that includes her own ‘vocalese’ lyrics, these additional words putting a witty and very contemporary slant on the proceedings. The piece also incorporates instrumental features for Clarke and Tracey, the latter contributing a dynamic drum solo, in part underpinned by Owston’s bass. Harvey then takes over with a dazzling piano solo before Masser returns to sing joyously, reprising the lyrics, embarking on a brief but dazzling scat episode and adding her own ‘ vocalese’ coda. Her singing has been compared to that of that great British jazz export Annie Ross, and on the evidence of this performance it’s easy to see why.

The Antonio Carlos Jobim song “Passarim” sees Masser delivering the English language lyric in an unusual arrangement that features the sounds of Clarke on flute, Harvey on Rhodes and Tracey doubling on drums and backing vocals.

“So Near, So Far”, written by drummer Tony Crombie and saxophonist Benny Green, incorporates extended instrumental solos from Harvey and Clarke plus a series of exchanges between Owston and Tracey, with Harvey in the role of mediator. Masser is featured at the start and towards the close, but this is a piece that places the main focus on the instrumentalists, and is none the worse for that.

There’s a greater emphasis on Masser’s vocals on “Then I’ll Be Tired Of You”, a song written by E.Y. Harburg and Arthur Schwartz. The opening verses feature voice and piano only with the singer continuing to impress in this exposed format. Brushed drums, double bass and smoky tenor sax are then added, with Clarke’s warmly emotive solo demonstrating that, like Masser, she has the maturity to handle a ballad convincingly.

The album ends as it began with a hard bop inspired burst of energy in the form of “Suddenly Last Tuesday”, a tune written by the late, great Scottish trumpet player Jimmy Deuchar (1930-93). Older readers may remember that this piece was the title track of Clark Tracey’s debut solo album, an all instrumental quintet recording released by Cadillac Records way back in 1986. Introduced by the leader’s drums this latest version features Masser’s tongue-twisting,  gravity defying wordless vocals alongside exuberant instrumental solos from Clarke on tenor and Harvey on piano, all powered along by the volcanic rumble of Tracey’s drums.

“Introducing Emily Masser” may be a showcase for the emerging vocal talent that is Emily Masser but it’s also a great band recording with all the members of the quintet contributing hugely to the success of the album. Masser, Clarke and Owston bring a youthful vitality to a set of adventurous arrangements that make these old songs sound fresh and invigorating. Tracey and Harvey also play with an admirable energy, skill and verve, also helping to breathe fresh life into the songs.

Masser impresses both with her technical ability and her emotional maturity and she also impresses as an improviser with her wordless vocals on the first and last tracks. With the quintet scheduled to tour extensively in the UK in support of the album Masser is surely going to win herself a lot of new friends and admirers in the coming months. This album introduces an outstanding new talent who is surely destined to make a big impression on the jazz scene in the years to come. And having heard her often extraordinary singing I’d love to get the chance to hear her on saxophone too.

For details of forthcoming tour dates please visit;

“Introducing Emily Masser” is available via Clark Tracey’s Bandcamp page, together with other recordings featuring Clark and Stan Tracey;

blog comments powered by Disqus