CD review

CD REVIEW: Mike Gibbs Band featuring John Scofield – Symphony Hall, Birmingham 1991

Mike Gibbs Band featuring John Scofield – Symphony Hall, Birmingham 1991
(Dusk Fire DUSKCD116. CD review by Peter Bacon)

Listening to this double disc of a complete concert in what was at the time the newly-built showpiece Midlands concert hall, it’s easy to succumb to rose-tinted nostalgia.

Back in ’91 the Contemporary Music Network – remember them? – was still a thing. A thing supported by the Arts Council, no less. And thanks to the CMN, a 12-piece band which included Kenny Wheeler, Steve Swallow, John Taylor, Julian Argüelles, Bill Stewart, Tony Coe and more, could get a 12-date UK tour. And it could be led by Mike Gibbs with John Scofield as the featured soloist.

Seems like another world, eh? Well, outside of London it does. But, it really happened, and here is the proof.

The tunes come from Gibbs and Scofield, more from the latter, but one Gibbs composition was new on the night: Blueprint, written for Berklee, the alma mater of both trombonist/arranger/composer and guitarist/composer, but getting its first outing in Birmingham, England.

The excitement level on the night must have been high because, nearly 27 years later, it fairly crackles from the speakers. Scofield was riding high on the success of his Blue Note quartet albums – the first two pieces, here in Gibbs arrangements, were from his Meant To Be album released earlier in 1991. The guitarist is given (overly?) generous solo room throughout the programme and is on blistering form, ever inventive, uniformly absolutely committed.

But, if Sco’ dominates, he’s not the only reason to check out this release. The other main attractions include: the solos of pianist John Taylor, always pushing that envelope, always intriguing the ears, often amazing them too; the driving groove and support of electric bassist Steve Swallow, offering so much harmonic richness and lyrical counter melody in addition to that faultless time; the swagger of tenor saxophonist Tony Coe, especially in dialogue with Scofield on Gibbs’ Roses Are Red; and the soaring squeeze and release in the sublime solos of Kenny Wheeler – the trumpeter/flugelhorn player really is on spectacular form here.

And then, of course, there is the composing and arranging of Mike Gibbs. His wide experience of writing for film brings wide-screen scope to this music, heard to most dramatic effect, possibly, on Scofield’s Science And Religion, but seemingly effortlessly melding jazz sophistication with rock fusion power all through the evening. Gibbs is also part of the ‘bone section along with Chris Pyne and Dave Stewart. The gruff low brass and bass riffing behind the guitar solo on Gill B643, then expanding to take in the trumpets and French horns, is just one of my favourite moments, and a touch that is just so-Mike Gibbs.

There have been other memorable jazz gigs in the grand surroundings of Symphony Hall – Michael Brecker, Wayne Shorter, DeJohnette, Branford Marsalis all come to mind – but, the Maria Schneider Orchestra aside, they are all a long time back. Will we ever see such times again, the nostalgic muses.

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