JJ 05/83: Bobby Wellins/Gil Evans at Camden

Forty years ago, Mark Gilbert saw Bobby Wellins creative in the post-bop sphere and Gil Evans leading British soloists through some modes

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On Tuesday night the Bobby Wellins Quartet offered a typical set of modern material. Their sound is essentially sparse, this effect created in part by the restraint of the players and in part by the way in which they often play off and against each other rather than in unison. This was particularly evident in the interplay between Kenny Baldock (on bass) and Spike Wells (drums). On the opening number, What Is The Truth?, one passage had the bass thrumming along at double the speed of the medium-paced drums which created an interesting tension. The music was full of similar challenges between the players and had some fine solos from the tenorist leader and from pianist Peter Jacobsen.

On his current UK tour, Gil Evans has staffed his orchestra with exclusively British personnel, using the cream of the country’s jazz talent. He has provided them with quite simplistic modal material using mainly rock and funk rhythms with typically loose horn ensemble passages. Over this elemental backdrop the soloists are given their head for a minute or so each.

Amongst the high-calibre contrib­utors this night were tenorist Stan Sulzmann, baritonist John Surman, altoist Chris Hunter and guitarist Ray Russell. Climax and resolution in what was effectively a continuous performance were mainly created via volume and different movements (or riffs) were linked by quiet ruminative passages, one in particular featuring some beautiful acapella work by John Surman.

Evan’s current strength must lie in his arranging since it cannot be in composition on this evidence, and it was good to see Britain’s best given plenty of solo space.

Camden Jazz Week, Round House, Chalk Farm Road, London, 14-19 March 1983