|Mike Gibbs. (Cheltenham 2013). Photo credit Ruth Butler. All Rights Reserved.|
Mike Gibbs + 12
(Kings Place Hall Two. 12th October 2013. Third evening of Whirlwind Festival. Review by Frank Griffith)
Mike Gibbs + 12 played for a full house of The Base in Kings Place Hall Two as part of the first Whirlwind Festival, organised by American bassist and impresario, Michael Janisch. Mr Gibbs’ lifelong love affair with Gil Evans’s music was fully evident throughout his eighty minute set. It would have been difficult to differentiate between when Evans stopped and where Gibbs started, their styles being so well integrated, but Mike Gibbs went to considerable length in his announcements to explain this, so that the listener could identify where the joins were.
The all-star lineup of the 12 boasted the likes of saxophonist Julian Siegel, trombonist Mark Nightingale, trumpeters Noel Langley and Robbie Robson and pianist Hans Koller – as well as the fearless gaffer of the fest, Mike Janisch who was handling the bass chores.
The ensemble was comprised of four groups of threes. The three sax players doubled on every imaginable woodwind (bass and Bb clarinets, flutes, etc); the three trumpets frequently changed mutes; the lower brass section which consisted of trombone, tuba and horn (instead of 3 trombones) played a major role in the achieving the Gil-like qualities present in Gibbs’ orchestrations; the rhythm trio of piano, bass and drums anchored the ensemble.
What stays in the mind most are those mysterious elements that evade the intellect, and yet engage the listener even more. Andre Previn once described Ellington’s unique sound by noting that most Hollywood film composers upon hearing a colleague’s work would instantly be able to define and describe exactly what was going on instrument-wise, etc., but that Duke could write something for three instruments and befuddle everyone as to what it was. This quality to mystify permeated the Gibbs programme throughout, and made it completely unforgettable.
This largely melancholy side of Gil featured the compositions of Silver, Monk, Weill, Evans and Carla Bley. Ornette Coleman’s “Ramblin” closed the set and Gibbs’ close harmony casting of this diatonically playful melody effectively spurred similarly felicitous solos from Finn Peters’ alto sax and Nick Smart‘s trumpet- whose inventive thematic exposition of Ornette-like rhythmic cells was refreshing.
Other soloists excelled throughout including Mark Nightingale‘s moany-murky plungerisms on Evans’ “Las Vegas Tango” as well as Siegel’s soprano sax assuming the Miles role on Rodgers and Hart’s “Wait Til You See Her”. The de-facto leader of the 12, pianist Hans Koller, was featured widely as a soloist as well.
A tremendous night of music celebrating an icon of 20th century music from the pen and leadership of Gibbs, clearly a contemporary giant of this great music. Long may he flourish.