There was always an expectant moment when Bobby Wellins breathed the opening notes of a ballad.

JIB 33 5 CD (2 CDs) A limited edition only 500 copies available.

Bobby Wellins (tenor saxophone); Pete Jacobsen (piano, electric piano, organ); Adrian Kendon (bass); Spike Wells (drums)

Original ‘Jubilation’ album 8th June 1978

Original ‘Dreams are Free’ album 1979

Jubilation:

Jubilation / Nomad / What’s Happening? / Spider

Bonus tracks – Softly As In A Morning Sunrise / You Don’t Know What Love Is / Billie’s Bounce

Dreams are Free:

Dreams are Free / Love Dance / Aura / Conundrums / What is the Truth?/ Ba-loos

Bonus tracks – Rhythm-a-ning / In A Sentimental Mood / Now’s The Time / My Melancholy Baby

This is a magnificent 2cd pack from Jazz in Britain.  It is all about Bobby Wellins and Pete Jacobsen. Wellins and Jacobsen deserve the accolade.  Jacobsen has been largely forgotten. Wellins has been marginalised and reduced to that solo ‘Starless and Bible Black’ on ‘Under Milk Wood’ with Stan Tracey. Bobby was more than that, as these two discs demonstrate.  First of all there is the Wellins’ sound.  There was always an expectant moment when Bobby Wellins breathed the opening notes of a ballad with that haunting exquisite tone.  On ballads, we get the foggy lyricism and the breathy brooding beauty. Like all great players, there is instant recognition, it could not be anyone else.

All good albums are full of surprises.  Adrian Kendon is a great bass player.  I did not know that until I listened intensively to this music.  Obviously. I had heard his playing before, but I had not lifted it out of the background.  I had to replay the music to listen to Adrian.  His alliance with Spike Wells on many of the tracks and particularly ‘Jubilation’ is a delight especially the way that they shift the rhythm out of the almost military theme.  A comparison with Mingus and Dannie Richmond is not fanciful.  You hear a similar fast fierce rhythm on ‘Spider’ when the great Pete Jacobsen joins in the intense cabal.

 

There is a surprise on listening to ‘My Melancholy Baby’.  It is Wellins at his wildest, almost avant-garde.  He slides and slithers around the tune and sets out a serpentine path round the melody for Pete Jacobsen to follow.

There are no surprises about Pete Jacobsen. Pete at times has to deal with a very poor piano which is why I suspect that he occasionally uses the electric piano.  Like all pianists, Pete is best heard on the acoustic piano.  It is to be hoped that music like this might stimulate a re-evaluation of this great player who died too young.

The tracks on the new album have been transferred from two Bobby Wellins albums ‘Jubilation’ and ‘Dreams Are Free’.  Both discs have additional bonus tracks from the drummer Spike Wells’ archive.  ‘Nomad’ is one of those pieces that moves through subtle changes touching on bossa with Wellins moving from an atmospheric opening.  Kendon’s bass is important grounding the adventurous tenor improvising which moves through a number of moods and tones. The soft steamy sound appears on ‘What’s Happening?’ after an assertive opening.  The melodic gradations of tone are compelling.

A new theory based on listening to Bobby Wellins and listening to him talk is that the tone that he draws from the tenor is very close to his speaking voice. The soft wispy brogue, particularly evident at lower volume is very individual. There is a great deal that is encapsulated into the Wellins’ sound. There are so many strands. There is humanity, sadness and a kind of weary soul. Spike Wells describes Bobby’s sound as ‘poignant, pinched and tragic, rather than mellow and fulsome’. ‘Aura’ begins and finishes with the piano.  The sensitivity of Spike Wells’ brushes prepares and create the atmosphere for the soft almost hoarse tenor improvisation. Ellington’s ‘In A Sentimental Mood’ receives a Wellins’ re-interpretation that gilds the famous beautiful melody and is one of the many highlights of the albums containing, as it does, an equally beautiful solo from Pete Jacobsen that completely compels attention.

Spike Wells contributes so much to this music in addition to opening his archive for the extra ‘Inheritance tracks’.  He also contributes some extensive notes to accompany the music. Wells played with Tubby Hayes in one of the finest groups led by Tubby.  His drumming, both fierce and sensitive, incited and inspired some of Tubby’s finest playing.  He also played with Johnny Griffin, James Moody, Zoot Sims, Sonny Stitt, Art Farmer, Cedar Walton and Blossom Dearie. Spike notes:  ‘I started playing regularly with my soulmate Bobby Wellins and continued to do so right up to his death in 2016. To borrow Dizzy’s phrase about Bird, Bobby was the other half of my heart-beat.’

 

Wells’ drumming fires the quartet on ‘Now’s The Time’ and ‘Billie’s Bounce’. Both tracks show Wellins at his most inventive and lucid. The lyricism is pushed to one side but the individuality is retained. Wellins’ basic idiosyncracy.is never overwhelmed by the fierceness of the rhythm, creating an irresistible delicious tension.

Bobby Wellins does not have an extensive discography and a representative collection of his work is not easily available.  There is, as yet no great advocate to promote his work.  Hopefully, this album might be the catalyst for inspiring a resurgence of interest in one of the very greatest tenor players, not just in the UK but anywhere.