REVIEW: Mike Gibbs 80th Birthday Celebration at the Vortex

Mike Gibbs on the first concert of this tour at Scarborough
Photo credit: John Watson / jazzcamera.co.uk

Mike Gibbs 80th Birthday Celebration
(Vortex, 25 and 27 September 2017. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

When a big band playing his compositions is in full cry, Mike Gibbs as conductor uses a simple, expressive and telling gesture. He raises both hands to the same height in the direction of the musicians, palms down, and keeps them still. It might look like a gesture to tell the band to hold back, but it isn’t. What it seems to convey is that even when feelings are at their most joyous and intense, this is also a moment for collective listening; it signifies that all that power which the band will unleash is going to be in balance.

Every single member of this hand-picked band, whom Gibbs knows and values as an individual,  understands what to do, and gives it back. What comes across is that the fascinating, ever-shifting, kaleidoscopic range of textures, harmonies and moods which is there in Mike Gibbs’ music has the  palpable sense that it is a shared endeavour. Individuals have their moments to shine – and they all did (list below!) – but the whole is more than the sum of the parts, and the listener’s ear is held completely rapt as each composition evolves and is allowed to tell its story.

The programme on Wednesday showed off many facets of Gibbs’ oeuvre. His masteful, fluent, cogent adaptation of Gil Evans’ Las Vegas Tango has a wonderful sense of being built on a solid fundament, an insistent groove from the rhythm section, and with the continuing opening up of new vistas as the textures and harmonies shift. Lost in Space is full of contrasts from the eerie loneliness of guitar effects – from the magnificent Mike Walker – to full band ecstasy.  I remember having been completely captivated by Maurizius when I heard it – and reviewed it  – at its lavish premiere in Germany, and Gibbs has continued to develop it. The complex Philip Glass/ John Adams ostinati serve their purpose in a piece that builds organically, and the admixture of Jim Rattigan‘s accordion is a masterstroke.

I was lucky enough to attend part of the Monday show and all of the Wednesday show at a completely packed Vortex, the room full of musicians. Most of the venues on this tour are larger venues, but the immediacy of the experience in the close confines of the Vortex will make this one of my gigs of the year.

In the interview which Peter Bacon did with Gibbs before this tour, the composer/arranger talked about where inspiration comes from. He said: “Most of ideas for pieces come to me from other musics – and the supply is endless.” This is perhaps the essence of what Gibbs does. To explain what that means is definitely best left in the very capable hands of John L Walters. This extract from his reissue sleeve note from 1999 for the 1970 debut album on Deram Michael Gibbs, I think is one of the best attempts to capture Mike Gibbs’ significance:

 “Gibbs’s direct and indirect influences can be heard in work by Carla Bley, Palle Mikkelborg, John Scofield, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell and possibly a whole roster of later musicians who don’t even know his name. One of Gibbs’s triumphs has been to absorb the lessons of the greats – of Gil Evans and Duke Ellington and Charles Ives and the Beatles and Miles Davis – without sounding remotely like any of them. That is why Gibbs has never been in the mainstream. And that is why his music is so important, such a valuable part of our global cultural heritage.” 




1) You Go To My Head (Coots / Gillespie)
2) Throughout (Bill Frisell)
3) Las Vegas Tango (Gil Evans)
4) Meant to Be (John Scofield)
5) Lost in Space John Scofield)


1) Django (John Lewis)
2) ‘Tis As It Should Be (Gibbs)
3) Maurizius (Eberhard Weber)
4) And on the Third Day (Gibbs)
5) Tennis Anyone (Gibbs)

All arrangements by Mike Gibbs


Conductor : Mike Gibbs

Trumpets: Ryan Quigley, Henry Lowther, Percy Pursglove, Nick Smart
Trombones: Mark Bassey, Jeremy Price, Rory Ingham, Richard Henry (bass trombone)
Saxophones: Jason Yarde (alto/soprano), John O’Gallagher (alto), Julian Siegel (tenor/bass clarinet), Alex Garnett (tenor/baritone)
French horn & accordion: Jim Rattigan
Guitar: Mike Walker
Bass: Michael Janisch
Piano: Hans Koller
Drums: Andrew Bain

Categories: miscellaneous

2 replies »

  1. For those of us who can't make any of the gigs, I do hope there will be an album, and 2 CDs at that, one for each set…

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