Bobby Wellins

The Satin Album

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Billie Holiday's Lady in Satin, made a little more than a year before her death, certainly engenders a lot of discussion as to its proper place in the pantheon of Lady Day recordings. Certainly the imperfections in her voice at this point in her career are obvious. Nonetheless, the soul and pathos, punctuated by Ray Ellis' luxurious strings, personify her vocalizing more than ever before. Veteran British saxophone player Bobby Wellins believes Lady in Satin was one of Holiday's most important contributions to recorded vocal jazz, so he and his quartet have fashioned this instrumental version in tribute. Choosing the more doleful-sounding tenor saxophone for this album (Wellins is also adept on alto), Wellins does a credible job in re-creating the mood of what was to be one of Holiday's last trips to the recording studio (most of the releases following this were from radio, TV, or club performances). It's a risky undertaking to try and re-create the Holiday feeling without the Holiday voice, and given that all the songs are ballads, it would be easy for Wellins to produce a banal product. However, there is sufficient diversity in the arrangements to get, and sustain, the listener's interest. "I Get Along Without You Very Well" receives an above-the-melody-treatment, while "I'm a Fool to Want You" opens in a sensuous mood and segues into an upbeat tempo. A moody "Violets for Your Furs" finds Wellins and pianist Colin Purbrook engaging in more than five minutes of musical give and take. The session's tour de force is the Alec Wilder classic "I'll Be Around." On the 1958 album, it was painfully evident that it wasn't likely Holiday would be "around" for much longer, given the damage to her health caused by hard living. Wellins and Purbrook's playing fully captures this feeling of pending inevitability. Happily, the album ends on a relatively upbeat note, with a midtempo rendition of "The End of a Love Affair." Dave Green's bass and Clark Tracey's drums get significant solo space on this cut. Wellins' tone is less harsh than on some of his previous recordings. His playing here falls between the muted lyricism of a Lester Young and the heavier tone of Stan Getz. This is an unexpected and entertaining tribute to a controversial album.

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