Album review

Mike Gibbs – ‘Revisiting Tanglewood 63: The Early Tapes’

Mike Gibbs – Revisiting Tanglewood 63: The Early Tapes
(Jazz in Britain JIB 24-S-CD. Album review by Tony Dudley-Evans)

The enterprising Jazz in Britain label specialises in releasing archive material often drawn from recordings and tapes from musicians’ collections, or from BBC Radio sessions. They have, for example, brought out sessions by the Ian Carr/Don Rendell Quintet, Joe Harriott groups, and the Mike Taylor Quartet. In this set of tape recordings of BBC broadcasts made by Mike Gibbs while preparing for his seminal album Tanglewood 63 they have found a real gem.

Mike Gibbs was born in what is now Zimbabwe; studied at Berklee College of Music and Tanglewood in the USA, and then settled in London in the mid-1960s, playing trombone in the John Dankworth Band and the Graham Collier Septet. In the late 1960s he formed his own band and recorded two albums for the Deram label: the first in 1970 simply titled Michael Gibbs, the second in 1971 titled Tanglewood 63.

The Jazz in Britain recording presents music from BBC broadcasts in the lead up to the recording of the Tanglewood 63 album which Gibbs had kept on tape. There are seven tracks as compared to the five on the actual album. There are predictably a lot of similarities between the two albums; on both we hear the way Gibbs’ ensemble writing focuses on the sound of the brass instruments, also the influence of rock music, and, overall, the positive and joyful sound of the music.

There are, however, interesting differences. Duncan Heining in his excellent and informative notes for the new release observes that the tape recordings, although made without an audience, have more of a live feel than the issued album. I agree, and it’s interesting to compare the versions of the five tracks that are on both albums. It’s not a case of saying which version is better, but rather one of noting interesting differences. 

Certainly the ensemble sound is often fuller on the taped recordings; we hear this on Canticle and Fanfare. This works well on the latter track, but the gentler, more mysterious ensemble textures of the Deram album on the former track are perhaps more suited to the mood of the piece. On the title track Tanglewood 63 and Five For England the ensemble playing is much tighter on the Deram album than on the tapes, but I prefer the way the Sojourn track develops on the tapes; the introduction from Roy Babbington on electric bass strikes me as working better than the cello intro on the Deram album. 

Solos seem more cohesive on the Deram album; Henry Lowther and Chris Pyne, for example, build excellent solos in the title track, and guitarist Chris Speeding develops a more varied and spikier solo on the Deram album version of Five For England. On the other hand, Stan Sulzmann‘s alto sax solo on the tape version of Sojourn adds something to that track that is missing from the version on the Deram album.

If you own the original Deram album (my copy is a double album of both Deram albums reissued on the Vocalion label), I think you will find the Jazz in Britain album very interesting. If you don’t own the original album, I recommend buying both!

LINK: Revisiting Tanglewood 63 at Jazz in Britain

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