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Review: Nigel Clark & Tom MacNiven Quintet Celebrate Bobby Wellins, Glasgow Jazz Festival

Nigel Clark & Tom MacNiven Quintet Celebrate Bobby Wellins, Drygate, Glasgow, Saturday June 23rd ****

Saturday night at the Glasgow Jazz Festival was all about one of the city’s greatest musical exports – the tenor saxophonist Bobby Wellins, who died in November 2016 at the age of 80.

The esteem in which he’s held by successive generations of players and the fondness with which he’s remembered radiated through the three-part tribute which featured musicians he worked with in Scotland – notably trumpeter MacNiven and pianist Brian Kellock – and those, such as guitarist Nigel Clark and tenor saxophonist Helena Kay, whom he encouraged when they were starting out in jazz.

Kicking off the proceedings was a compelling documentary, Dreams Are Free, which was not only a lovely portrait of Wellins but also a reminder of how much films can bring to a music festival; for one hour, Wellins himself regaled the audience with his star-studded stories, and spoke extremely frankly about the struggle with heroin which kept him away from playing for a decade and nearly cost him his family.

Gary Barber’s film was followed by an exquisite solo set by Nigel Clark who was mentored by Wellins when they were both working down south in the 1980s and is, like Wellins, a master of ballad. Highlights included Oscar Peterson’s Hymn to Freedom and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s O Grande Amor.

Jobim also provided a highlight of the closing set – by an all-star Scottish quintet playing the tracks recorded 20 years previously on Tom MacNiven’s album Guess What?, which had featured Wellins. O Morro/Favela was one of the calmer numbers in an exuberant set which culminated in something of a party atmosphere with MacNiven’s Disciples of the Art of the Off Beat and an unexpectedly rousing take on Blue Monk.

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