Review: Bobby Wellins and Liam Noble at the Albion Beatnik Bookshop, Oxford

Bobby Wellins, Liam Noble. Oxford 2014.
Photo Credit: Alyn Shipton
Bobby Wellins and Liam Noble
(Albion Beatnik Bookshop, Oxford. 26th February 2014. Review by Alyn Shipton)

Nobody else in jazz has saxophonist Bobby Wellins’ talent for sidling up to a well-known tune and taking it apart at the same time as stating the melody. The distinctive tenor tone, as burnished now as it was on his celebrated recordings of the sixties, is perfect for embellishing standards, and that, for the most part, is what we got in his duo concert with pianist Liam Noble. My Funny Valentine and Lover Man both had slightly fragmented statements of the tune – but everyone in the audience at Dennis Harrison’s friendly bookshop in Walton Street in Oxford seemed to know the pieces well enough for that not to matter, and to follow every twist and turn with rapt concentration. With a constantly shifting piano backdrop on the former and a Latin-ish tinge to the latter, neither was straightforward, but both were immensely satisfying. Liam shot off in all directions on Lover Man freed from the constraints of bass and drums to set up little motifs and worry them all over the keyboard like a bouncy terrier with a rag.

The joy of the concert was the unexpected, Bobby turning Monk’s Mood into an intensely lyrical ballad, and then the pair of them finding Brubeck’s In Your Own Sweet Way (the highlight of the evening) to be the perfect opportunity for musical dialogue. Liam’s ever denser solo, with improvised counterpoint and occasional stride echoes, was reminiscent of his imaginative Brubeck trio album from 2009, but then Bobby edged back in with an oblique restatement of the tune before they began trading bars. Sometimes it was burning, sometimes lumpy, but it was always driving, and in their swapped phrasing, neither ever went for the obvious. Their entire concert was notable for the absence of clichés.

The same could not be said for the mercifully brief set of Dan Holloway’s poems, which, whether unaccompanied, or backed by some subtle piano improvisation, were derivative, and largely lacking in the refreshing spontaneity of the music.

The return to the duo saw them playing even more freely, with a sumptuous Dream Dancing and a piece that morphed into a down-home blues. The book-lined walls of the Albion Beatnik create a dry acoustic, in which music carries easily without amplification. And if the attention should wander momentarily, then Dennis’s remarkable stock of books — music, foreign literature, fiction and travel writing — makes for an excellent diversion for the eyes. It’s an intimate and relaxed setting for chamber jazz, and when the musical conversation is as enthralling as this, few jazz clubs can match it.

The next Albion Beatnik gig is another duo, Gilad Atzmon with guitarist Luis D’Agostino, on 12 March. WEBSITE

Related article: Liam Noble wrote this tribute to Dave Brubeck.


  1. I thought the books where the perfect accompanient to the music both taking you to places you had not been before just perfect

  2. For one week only, the 40th anniversary broadcast of Under Milk Wood is on the BBC radio iplayer, and this time they haven't cut off the ending (as happened in 2005). Highly recommended!