Photo credit John Watson/ jazzcamera.co.uk
Michael Gibbs / Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Jazz Orchestra
(Eastside Jazz Club, Birmingham. 5 February 2018. Review and photos by John Watson)
Michael Gibbs tried a little audience quiz as he introduced his composition The Time Has Come at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s Eastside Jazz Club.
“The time has come . . . the Walrus said . . . who can complete that?”
“Really? Oh, come on,” he chided with a smile.
“The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things . . . ”
And he went on to complete the line from Lewis Carroll’s The Walrus And The Carpenter.
“No one knows it? You are British, aren’t you?” quipped Michael.
“Yes, but we don’t read,” cried a wag in the crowd.
The banter was light-hearted, and Gibbs went on to explain that the title of his atmospheric composition, with its snappy brass conclusion, was inspired by bandleader Herb Pomeroy. “He had a walrus moustache.”
Gibbs was directing the conservatoire’s jazz orchestra, with many outstanding students in the line-up, and there were fine solos on The Time Has Come from pianist Timur Pak – making imaginative use of space – and guitarist Aidan Pope.
Altoist Lewis Sallows provided a suitably spirted solo on Almost Every Day, a dynamic piece inspired, Michael told the audience, by a visit to the Greenwich Village club Sweet Basil to hear Gil Evans and his Orchestra. “They were playing a Jimi Hendrix piece – Little Wing, I think – and I was so excited by it that I went home and Almost Every Day kind of fell out onto the page.”
The conservatoire concert, following Gibbs’ appearance with his own big band at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham last autumn during his 80th Birthday Tour of the UK, followed several days of workshops and rehearsals with the students.
One of the privileges of being a photographer as well as a writer is occasionally having the fascinating experience of attending rehearsals, and hearing the final shaping of the sounds – the tightening of musical nuts and bolts – that audiences will later enjoy.
I was fortunate enough to attend the final rehearsal for the conservatoire concert, and to once again see that Gibbs’ celebrated vagueness in ensemble direction actually has a positive creative impact on the musicians. Left to make many decisions themselves (“Maybe you could keep that going for a bit longer,” he will gently suggest), the players are drawn away from the comfort of the printed page and find themselves immersed in the essence of the music.
It raises musicians to another creative level, and this became evident at the concert following the rehearsal. Of course, with such complex music there were a few rough edges. But the spirit of Gibbs music was very effectively absorbed by the young players. This was particularly evident in the soloing of two of the trumpeters: on Country Roads, Christos Stylianedes played with firecracker exuberance, while on And On The Third Day, James Gardener – on flugelhorn – played with exquisite simplicity, a gorgeous tone and tremendous feeling.
The concluding Fanfare – pure vintage Gibbs – provided a gloriously blazing end to a performance which delighted the audience and took the young players into a new creative dimension.
|Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Jazz Orchestra Dir. Michael Gibbs
Photo credit John Watson / jazzcamera.co.uk
Trumpets: Ashley Smith, Christos Stylianedes, Gareth Howell, James Gardener
Trombones: Sam Shelton, Toby Carr, Joe Carnel, Ashley Naylor
Reeds: Mike Anning, Liam Brenan, Lewis Sallows, Noah Smith, Cameron Woodhead
Piano: Timur Pak
Guitar: Aidan Pope
Bass: Matt Hollick
Drums: Charlie Johnson
Directed by Michael Gibbs
Almost Every Day
The Time Has Come
And On The Third Day
Science and Religion
Tis As It Should Be
I’ll Look Around