Bobby Wellins is unique; a near contemporary of Rollins, Shorter and Roy Haynes, he’s a representative of the generation who discovered modern jazz, introduced it to the UK and have nurtured it ever since. His dedication to the form has been constant over 50 years, unswayed by the vagaries of fashion (or fusion) as he’s pursued his unswerving creative pathway. The scene may have changed immeasurably and his surviving peers may be few, but tonight sees him in the kind of setting that’s he’s thrived in since the beginning; a small club, packed with fans, sharing the stage with a five-star band who know exactly what he’s about.
Spike Wells has been drumming with Wellins for over 30 years and such is the rapport between them that they seem locked in an intricate dance. The impromptu set-list, including numbers from great american songbook, a Jobim bossa, and re-workings from the bop repertoire, could have been drawn up at any point since the 1960s but everything sounds as if freshly minted tonight. Andy Cleyndert on bass and Mark Edwards on piano provide intuitive support; their consistently high level of creative soloing and absolute understanding of the material elevate this above the level of a casual blow, while retaining the relaxed spontaneity that’s integral to this music, and that cannot be faked.
Wellin’s tone is unmistakeable, light, centered but with a steely inner strength. Centre stage, playing side on to the crowd, he’s a picture of bright-eyed, dapper energy. His solos are models of space and economy; short, quizzical phrases delivered with impeccable timing. In contrast to the prolixity of much contemporary playing, there’s an impression of things left unsaid, or of questions posed but left unanswered. Yet there’s an unhurried certainty in evidence as well; a hard-won combination of the familiar and the enigmatic. Bobby Wellins is unique.
– Eddie Myer