Stan Tracey albums
The New Departures QuartetThe New Departures Quartet
Hot House HH (CD) 1010
Recording Supervisor: Victor Schonfield
Olympic Studios, London - 22 June 1964 and 13 July 1964
Bobby Wellins Photo: Mike Saunders

Notes: © Victor Schonfield - December 1965

Bobby Wellins is probably the most original and creative jazz musician to appear outside America since the war, and everyone should listen to him as often as it takes to be convinced of this. He is one of the few thoroughgoing jazz improvisers, relying on inspiration rather than formula, and trying always to play something you've never heard before, so one has to study the invention even after getting used to the style. Wellins has all the technical hallmarks of the real masters - an endless fund of melody and of differently shaped phrases, consistent variation of the volume, tone, length and inflection of individual notes and of their relation to the beat - but he is even stronger on intangibles. The strong Scottish tinge to his playing gives it folk roots every bit as raw and resilient as those of the blues, and his fragile sound gives it the compulsive honesty of a public confession Wellins can and does play everything that might occur to him, and yet one's first impression is of his unusual economy. His method is to create the maximum diversity of ideas, and yet the effect is one of tremendous swing. Above all, he successfully combines the qualities of graceful poise and nervous tension, in a way which can be compared with hardly anyone.
This album would be invaluable if only for the fact that it marks Wellin's first proper exposure on record, after at least five years artistic maturity. It has the added attraction of presenting him on four of his own themes, and in the exact company both he and his colleagues need to improvise best as soloists and collectively. The new Departures Quartet was formed in 1961 to improvise with poets Michael Horovitz and Pete Brown, and has been appearing ever since, both on its own and as part of the New Departures Jazz-poetry group, at recitals produced by Live New Departures. (New Departures review was founded by Horovitz to provide a platform for experimental work in all the arts, and has had four issues in print, and several hundred in performance) Wellins may be a perpetual freelance, but even more of an outsider is Morgan, who was a leading light of the local bebop revolution, but has resolutely shunned jazz clubs (first in drinking clubs, nowadays at the National Theatre) ever since. Clyne is far better known, and his career has consisted principally of long spells with Tubby Hayes and Tony Kinsey. The best known is Tracey, who has led the house trio and accompanied all the distinguished visitors at Ronnie Scott's Club since its opening, and is the reigning Melody Maker poll winner on piano.
Since the group aims at continuous discovery, I tried to reproduce the performing conditions they were used to. No restrictions were imposed, and the pieces are as recorded in one take at the same session. Morgan was screened off for recording purposes, which meant he couldn't hear the others properly and therefore economised on his contributions, but the others were unharmed by the studio setup. The haunting McTaggart opens, typically, with what is a piano-bass duet rather than a piano solo, and then demonstrates the strength of Wellins Glasgow sound in a blues environment. Afro Charlie is based on the other standard jazz chord sequence, and displays the group in a tougher and more purposeful mood. Culloden Moor was included to give some idea of the group's free improvising, which is usually saved for their jazz poetry work; it is a reworking of some free improvisations which are also the basis of a concerto for the quartet with a fourteen-piece orchestra, the highlight of a Iegendary Live New Departures concert in 1961. Love with Variations shows it is possible to be rollicking and yet still aspire to the group's ambitious standards.