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Mike Gibbs Band with John Scofield - Symphony Hall, Birmingham 1991 Rating: 4-5 out of 5 Still sounds astonishingly fresh and contemporary, full of rich colours and textures, vibrant rhythms and inspired solos. An essential addition to the catalogues of both Mike Gibbs and John Scofield.

Mike Gibbs Band with John Scofield

“Symphony Hall, Birmingham 1991

(Dusk Fire Records DUSKCD116)

The Dusk Fire record label is a division of the Buckingham based Market Square Music and specialises in the release of archive recordings.

This recently released re-issue plunders the vaults to bring you this wonderful performance given by the Mike Gibbs band with their special guest, the guitarist and composer John Scofield, at Symphony Hall, Birmingham on Friday 18th October 1991.

I don’t usually review re-issues but I have to admit to having a vested interest in this recording. Not only was I present in the audience on the night in question but I was also asked to write the liner notes for the booklet that forms part of the packaging of this two CD release which delivers the night’s performance in its entirety. Originally recorded by Paul Sparrow and recently re-mastered by Martin Mitchell this is a remarkable document that still impresses and excites more than a quarter of a century on.

In a shameless piece of ‘JWEI’ (Jazz Will Eat Itself) I’m going to reproduce my liner notes below, which gives me the opportunity of bringing this very welcome slice of musical history to your attention and to recommend it unreservedly to fans of both Gibbs and Scofield and all lovers of good music.

MIKE GIBBS BAND, SYMPHONY HALL, BIRMINGHAM 1991…playing the music of Mike Gibbs and John Scofield

Mike Gibbs – trombone, conductor
John Scofield – guitar
Kenny Wheeler – trumpet, flugelhorn
Stuart Brooks- trumpet
John Barclay – trumpet
Tony Coe – tenor sax
Julian Arguelles – tenor & soprano saxes
John Clark – French horn
John Rooke – French horn
Chris Pyne – trombone
David Stewart – bass trombone, tuba
John Taylor – piano
Steve Swallow – bass guitar
Bill Stewart - drums

I was honoured to be contacted by Peter Muir of Market Square Music asking me to write a few words about the recoding of this performance by the Mike Gibbs Band with guest guitarist John Scofield at Birmingham Symphony Hall back in 1991.

Peter had picked up on the fact that I was in the audience that night when he read my account of a more recent Gibbs performance at the CBSO Centre, also in Birmingham, an event celebrating the great composer and arranger’s 80th birthday in 2017.

In that review I alluded to Gibbs’ close links with the city of Birmingham and also referenced the numerous other occasions on which I’d seen bands of his perform.

Peter’s request certainly helped to take me down ‘Memory Lane’ and to reflect upon just how long I’ve been listening to Gibbs and his music.

Initially coming to jazz from a rock direction I first became aware of his writing in the late 1970s / early 80s on small group recordings by vibraphonist Gary Burton, these including “Seven Songs for Quartet and Chamber Orchestra”, “The New Quartet” (both 1973) and “Picture This”(1982).

Hearing Gibbs’ compositions on these records (it was all vinyl in those days) led to my purchasing second hand copies of two of his large ensemble recordings “In The Public Interest” (1974), co-credited to Gibbs and Burton, and “The Only Chrome Waterfall Orchestra”, released on the Bronze Records imprint in 1975.
The latter featured the kind of international line up that was to come to characterise Gibbs’ ensembles with its mix of American, British and European musicians, including long running collaborator the bassist Steve Swallow, once of the Burton quartet.

In 1983 I was to witness a Gibbs band perform live for the first time at St. Donats Arts Centre in the Vale of Glamorgan on a Contemporary Music Network tour. The twelve piece band was a stellar ensemble featuring American, European and British musicians including Swallow, twin guitarists Kevin Eubanks and Wayne Krantz and Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg. It was a performance that was to make a big impression on me.

In 1991 Gibbs came to Birmingham for the show under discussion but it was to be a long time before I saw him again at St. George’s in Bristol in 2007, a performance that was part of a tour celebrating his 70th birthday.  Yet another star studded Anglo-American line up featured Bill Frisell as the featured guitar soloist with future Impossible Gentlemen Swallow and Adam Nussbaum (drums) forming the deluxe rhythm team.

Also present on that Bristol date was the German born, UK based pianist and composer Hans Koller who has been Gibbs’ musical right hand man for the last decade or so. In 2013 Koller was a key part of the primarily British band that Gibbs led at that year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival in a performance that celebrated the centenary of the birth of the great Gil Evans, Gibbs’ primary influence as a composer and arranger. Playing a mix of Evans arrangements and Gibbs originals this was yet another memorable performance from a Gibbs ensemble.

Prior to that Festival performance the band had also entered a London studio to record the album “Mike Gibbs + 12 Play Gil Evans” which appeared on the Whirlwind Recordings label run by the ensemble’s bassist, Michael Janisch.

A performance by a Mike Gibbs band is always a memorable event, and none more so than the one documented on this album.

The show at Birmingham Symphony Hall on Friday 18th October 1991 was the tenth of a twelve date UK tour promoted by the much missed Contemporary Music Network, a branch of the Arts Council of Great Britain. Incredibly this particular tour even had a sponsor – Rolling Rock beer!

In his brief to me regarding these notes Peter Muir used the phrase “you are our eyes and ears for that night”. More than twenty six years on my brain sifted through the memory file for concrete reminiscences. Not easy at this late date but in true magpie fashion I had retained some mementos of the occasion including my ticket stub and the glossy printed programme that CMN produced for the tour, as indeed they did for all the tours that they supported.

The programme for the Gibbs / Scofield tour included an erudite introductory essay by the esteemed music journalist and broadcaster Brian Morton plus biographies of all the musicians involved.

In a contemporary BBC radio interview sourced by my friend Glyn David, I remember Gibbs explaining how the seeds of the project were sown at the 1988 British Jazz Awards where Sco was playing with saxophonist Andy Sheppard. Scofield and Gibbs already knew each other and it was the guitarist who first suggested the collaboration. The pair subsequently worked together in Scandinavia before the Anglo-American band was assembled.

Smith enquired as to why Gibbs worked so frequently with guitarists, John McLaughlin and Bill Frisell also having been frequent collaborators. Was Gibbs instinctively attracted to the instrument?
The composer preferred to put it down to coincidence.

The concept of ‘fusion’ was discussed, a term that Gibbs didn’t particularly care for, at least not as a simplistic fusion of jazz and rock with Gibbs citing the influence of classical music on his own work. Taking Bill Stewart as an example he felt that the way the drummer played was ‘beyond fusion’, that he wasn’t consciously trying to combine jazz and rock. Instead Stewart’s style was a perfectly natural amalgam of all his influences, including both jazz and rock.

Asked as to the possibility of a recording from this collaboration. Gibbs stated that he “wasn’t in a tearing hurry” at that precise time as the music was still developing in live performance with new things being tried out almost every night. However he did express a willingness to document the music at some point, either under Scofield’s name on Blue Note or his own name under whatever record deal he could put together. To my knowledge, this recording never happened, which makes this live document all the more valuable and essential.

Writing as the “eyes and ears” of the event I remember having very good seats in the stalls (row CC) and having an excellent, close up view of the band. I also remember being hugely impressed with both the architecture (by Percy Thomas) and the acoustics of the then new Symphony Hall (it had first opened earlier in the year) on what I’m fairly certain was my first visit to the venue. The sound for the Gibbs / Scofield band was excellent throughout, as evidenced by this recording.

I recall Gibbs playing trombone as well as conducting (he’d stopped playing again by the time of the 2007, 2013 and 2017 shows) and the pieces played being a mixture of Gibbs originals and Scofield tunes arranged by Gibbs. Mike’s compositions included well established pieces from his repertoire alongside newer items specifically written for the tour.

Meanwhile two of Mike’s arrangements of Sco’s pieces came from the guitarist’s then current Blue Note album “Meant To Be” (a quartet recording featuring saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Bill Stewart) which was advertised in the tour programme.

Scofield was far more than just a ‘guest soloist’, he was an integral part of the ensemble and the fact that Gibbs had found the time to arrange some of the guitarist’s compositions and to write new pieces specifically for the tour suggested that this was a project that had been a long time in the planning.

Gibbs and Scofield had previously worked together on Gibbs’ 1988 album “Big Music”, at that time the composer’s most recent recording.  ‘Sco’ remained centre stage almost throughout and took a solo on every number. By this stage of the tour he was playing with a remarkable degree of fluency and inventiveness, bringing additional colour and energy to an already rich and heady sonic brew.

As a long time supporter of UK jazz it was good to see so many familiar British faces in the band and there’s a certain poignancy in the fact that a quarter of a century on such world class musicians as Kenny Wheeler, John Taylor and Chris Pyne are no longer with us.

I particularly remember Taylor’s superlative contribution at the piano, his classically informed lightness of touch on the Symphony Hall’s grand piano was a revelation. This was one of the earliest occasions on which I’d seen Taylor play, although I’ve been privileged to witness him again many times since in a variety of contexts, including as the leader of his own trio.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have access to the master tapes of this recording and listening to them has allowed me to put some flesh on the bones of my now rather faded recollections of that night.

The concert commenced with back to back performances of two Gibbs arrangements of pieces from Scofield’s “Meant To Be Album”, these being “Lost In Space” and the title track. The composer shone with solos on both tunes and it was also his unaccompanied guitar that introduced the second piece.

However the British contingent also made their mark to good effect with Taylor contributing the first of several excellent solos on the arresting “Lost In Space”. Meanwhile the then youthful Julian Arguelles, fresh out of Loose Tubes, stepped up to the plate in his home town to deliver a sinuous soprano sax solo on “Meant To Be”.

Even without the benefit of hearing it again one of my indelible memories of that night has always been Sco and Coe going toe to toe centre stage on guitar and tenor sax respectively in an enthralling duet during the performance of Gibbs’ “Roses Are Red”.

Elements of funk helped to enliven “Gil643”, a Scofield composition presumably written as a tribute to Gil Evans. It represents a bitter-sweet experience to be hearing the sound of Kenny Wheeler’s typically eloquent solo again after all this time.

The energy levels and funk flavourings continued on Gibbs’ “Don’t Overdo it”, a piece written specifically for the tour that included solos from Scofield on guitar and the late Chris Pyne on trombone, plus the first of several features for the then rising star Bill Stewart at the drum kit.
The performance was crowned by a rousing big band style climax.

The first half ended on an unexpectedly gentle note with Gibbs’ delicate “Out Of The Question” which was introduced by Taylor’s crystalline solo piano while Scofield sounded almost Metheny-like on his solo.

At the start of the second set Scofield’s “Pretty Out” featured a scaled down version of the ensemble that offered soloing opportunities to Scofield, Taylor, Swallow and Stewart. But the most striking thing about hearing this performance twenty six years on is hearing the mercurial solo by Kenny Wheeler, a welcome reminder of just what a fiery player he could be.

Gibbs’ “Blueprint” was commissioned by his ‘alma mater, the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston but was actually premièred on this tour. Introduced by Stewart at the drums the piece boasted a big, resonant large ensemble sound and included solos from Scofield on guitar and the irrepressible Steve Swallow on nimble, dexterous five string electric bass.

Scofield’s “Science & Religion” represented a tour de force for the composer with its unaccompanied guitar intro and subsequent powerful, bluesy solo.

The final two pieces were a segue of Gibbs’ composition, “A World Without” combined with Scofield’s “Fat Lip”. Both retained elements of the blues, the first featuring Scofield’s guitar soloing above a richly textured backdrop and a supple bass and drum groove, the latter more overt and funky with Scofield and the entire band tearing it up on a barnstorming closer.

Hearing this concert in full again after more than a quarter of a century has been a richly rewarding experience, and not just because of the nostalgia involved. The music still sounds astonishingly fresh and contemporary, full of rich colours and textures, vibrant rhythms and inspired solos. It’s been a pleasure to absorb myself in the sound of this ensemble again after all this time and to revel in the finer details of this marvellous music making. This is music that sounds as vital today as it did when it was first played and recorded.

This double album represents an essential addition to the catalogues of both Mike Gibbs and John Scofield.  This is a collaboration that both men can look back on with satisfaction and pride and it’s good to see this music being made available in the public domain at last.

 

Symphony Hall, Birmingham 1991

Mike Gibbs Band with John Scofield

Friday, June 01, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

Symphony Hall, Birmingham 1991

Still sounds astonishingly fresh and contemporary, full of rich colours and textures, vibrant rhythms and inspired solos. An essential addition to the catalogues of both Mike Gibbs and John Scofield.

Mike Gibbs Band with John Scofield

“Symphony Hall, Birmingham 1991

(Dusk Fire Records DUSKCD116)

The Dusk Fire record label is a division of the Buckingham based Market Square Music and specialises in the release of archive recordings.

This recently released re-issue plunders the vaults to bring you this wonderful performance given by the Mike Gibbs band with their special guest, the guitarist and composer John Scofield, at Symphony Hall, Birmingham on Friday 18th October 1991.

I don’t usually review re-issues but I have to admit to having a vested interest in this recording. Not only was I present in the audience on the night in question but I was also asked to write the liner notes for the booklet that forms part of the packaging of this two CD release which delivers the night’s performance in its entirety. Originally recorded by Paul Sparrow and recently re-mastered by Martin Mitchell this is a remarkable document that still impresses and excites more than a quarter of a century on.

In a shameless piece of ‘JWEI’ (Jazz Will Eat Itself) I’m going to reproduce my liner notes below, which gives me the opportunity of bringing this very welcome slice of musical history to your attention and to recommend it unreservedly to fans of both Gibbs and Scofield and all lovers of good music.

MIKE GIBBS BAND, SYMPHONY HALL, BIRMINGHAM 1991…playing the music of Mike Gibbs and John Scofield

Mike Gibbs – trombone, conductor
John Scofield – guitar
Kenny Wheeler – trumpet, flugelhorn
Stuart Brooks- trumpet
John Barclay – trumpet
Tony Coe – tenor sax
Julian Arguelles – tenor & soprano saxes
John Clark – French horn
John Rooke – French horn
Chris Pyne – trombone
David Stewart – bass trombone, tuba
John Taylor – piano
Steve Swallow – bass guitar
Bill Stewart - drums

I was honoured to be contacted by Peter Muir of Market Square Music asking me to write a few words about the recoding of this performance by the Mike Gibbs Band with guest guitarist John Scofield at Birmingham Symphony Hall back in 1991.

Peter had picked up on the fact that I was in the audience that night when he read my account of a more recent Gibbs performance at the CBSO Centre, also in Birmingham, an event celebrating the great composer and arranger’s 80th birthday in 2017.

In that review I alluded to Gibbs’ close links with the city of Birmingham and also referenced the numerous other occasions on which I’d seen bands of his perform.

Peter’s request certainly helped to take me down ‘Memory Lane’ and to reflect upon just how long I’ve been listening to Gibbs and his music.

Initially coming to jazz from a rock direction I first became aware of his writing in the late 1970s / early 80s on small group recordings by vibraphonist Gary Burton, these including “Seven Songs for Quartet and Chamber Orchestra”, “The New Quartet” (both 1973) and “Picture This”(1982).

Hearing Gibbs’ compositions on these records (it was all vinyl in those days) led to my purchasing second hand copies of two of his large ensemble recordings “In The Public Interest” (1974), co-credited to Gibbs and Burton, and “The Only Chrome Waterfall Orchestra”, released on the Bronze Records imprint in 1975.
The latter featured the kind of international line up that was to come to characterise Gibbs’ ensembles with its mix of American, British and European musicians, including long running collaborator the bassist Steve Swallow, once of the Burton quartet.

In 1983 I was to witness a Gibbs band perform live for the first time at St. Donats Arts Centre in the Vale of Glamorgan on a Contemporary Music Network tour. The twelve piece band was a stellar ensemble featuring American, European and British musicians including Swallow, twin guitarists Kevin Eubanks and Wayne Krantz and Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg. It was a performance that was to make a big impression on me.

In 1991 Gibbs came to Birmingham for the show under discussion but it was to be a long time before I saw him again at St. George’s in Bristol in 2007, a performance that was part of a tour celebrating his 70th birthday.  Yet another star studded Anglo-American line up featured Bill Frisell as the featured guitar soloist with future Impossible Gentlemen Swallow and Adam Nussbaum (drums) forming the deluxe rhythm team.

Also present on that Bristol date was the German born, UK based pianist and composer Hans Koller who has been Gibbs’ musical right hand man for the last decade or so. In 2013 Koller was a key part of the primarily British band that Gibbs led at that year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival in a performance that celebrated the centenary of the birth of the great Gil Evans, Gibbs’ primary influence as a composer and arranger. Playing a mix of Evans arrangements and Gibbs originals this was yet another memorable performance from a Gibbs ensemble.

Prior to that Festival performance the band had also entered a London studio to record the album “Mike Gibbs + 12 Play Gil Evans” which appeared on the Whirlwind Recordings label run by the ensemble’s bassist, Michael Janisch.

A performance by a Mike Gibbs band is always a memorable event, and none more so than the one documented on this album.

The show at Birmingham Symphony Hall on Friday 18th October 1991 was the tenth of a twelve date UK tour promoted by the much missed Contemporary Music Network, a branch of the Arts Council of Great Britain. Incredibly this particular tour even had a sponsor – Rolling Rock beer!

In his brief to me regarding these notes Peter Muir used the phrase “you are our eyes and ears for that night”. More than twenty six years on my brain sifted through the memory file for concrete reminiscences. Not easy at this late date but in true magpie fashion I had retained some mementos of the occasion including my ticket stub and the glossy printed programme that CMN produced for the tour, as indeed they did for all the tours that they supported.

The programme for the Gibbs / Scofield tour included an erudite introductory essay by the esteemed music journalist and broadcaster Brian Morton plus biographies of all the musicians involved.

In a contemporary BBC radio interview sourced by my friend Glyn David, I remember Gibbs explaining how the seeds of the project were sown at the 1988 British Jazz Awards where Sco was playing with saxophonist Andy Sheppard. Scofield and Gibbs already knew each other and it was the guitarist who first suggested the collaboration. The pair subsequently worked together in Scandinavia before the Anglo-American band was assembled.

Smith enquired as to why Gibbs worked so frequently with guitarists, John McLaughlin and Bill Frisell also having been frequent collaborators. Was Gibbs instinctively attracted to the instrument?
The composer preferred to put it down to coincidence.

The concept of ‘fusion’ was discussed, a term that Gibbs didn’t particularly care for, at least not as a simplistic fusion of jazz and rock with Gibbs citing the influence of classical music on his own work. Taking Bill Stewart as an example he felt that the way the drummer played was ‘beyond fusion’, that he wasn’t consciously trying to combine jazz and rock. Instead Stewart’s style was a perfectly natural amalgam of all his influences, including both jazz and rock.

Asked as to the possibility of a recording from this collaboration. Gibbs stated that he “wasn’t in a tearing hurry” at that precise time as the music was still developing in live performance with new things being tried out almost every night. However he did express a willingness to document the music at some point, either under Scofield’s name on Blue Note or his own name under whatever record deal he could put together. To my knowledge, this recording never happened, which makes this live document all the more valuable and essential.

Writing as the “eyes and ears” of the event I remember having very good seats in the stalls (row CC) and having an excellent, close up view of the band. I also remember being hugely impressed with both the architecture (by Percy Thomas) and the acoustics of the then new Symphony Hall (it had first opened earlier in the year) on what I’m fairly certain was my first visit to the venue. The sound for the Gibbs / Scofield band was excellent throughout, as evidenced by this recording.

I recall Gibbs playing trombone as well as conducting (he’d stopped playing again by the time of the 2007, 2013 and 2017 shows) and the pieces played being a mixture of Gibbs originals and Scofield tunes arranged by Gibbs. Mike’s compositions included well established pieces from his repertoire alongside newer items specifically written for the tour.

Meanwhile two of Mike’s arrangements of Sco’s pieces came from the guitarist’s then current Blue Note album “Meant To Be” (a quartet recording featuring saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Bill Stewart) which was advertised in the tour programme.

Scofield was far more than just a ‘guest soloist’, he was an integral part of the ensemble and the fact that Gibbs had found the time to arrange some of the guitarist’s compositions and to write new pieces specifically for the tour suggested that this was a project that had been a long time in the planning.

Gibbs and Scofield had previously worked together on Gibbs’ 1988 album “Big Music”, at that time the composer’s most recent recording.  ‘Sco’ remained centre stage almost throughout and took a solo on every number. By this stage of the tour he was playing with a remarkable degree of fluency and inventiveness, bringing additional colour and energy to an already rich and heady sonic brew.

As a long time supporter of UK jazz it was good to see so many familiar British faces in the band and there’s a certain poignancy in the fact that a quarter of a century on such world class musicians as Kenny Wheeler, John Taylor and Chris Pyne are no longer with us.

I particularly remember Taylor’s superlative contribution at the piano, his classically informed lightness of touch on the Symphony Hall’s grand piano was a revelation. This was one of the earliest occasions on which I’d seen Taylor play, although I’ve been privileged to witness him again many times since in a variety of contexts, including as the leader of his own trio.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have access to the master tapes of this recording and listening to them has allowed me to put some flesh on the bones of my now rather faded recollections of that night.

The concert commenced with back to back performances of two Gibbs arrangements of pieces from Scofield’s “Meant To Be Album”, these being “Lost In Space” and the title track. The composer shone with solos on both tunes and it was also his unaccompanied guitar that introduced the second piece.

However the British contingent also made their mark to good effect with Taylor contributing the first of several excellent solos on the arresting “Lost In Space”. Meanwhile the then youthful Julian Arguelles, fresh out of Loose Tubes, stepped up to the plate in his home town to deliver a sinuous soprano sax solo on “Meant To Be”.

Even without the benefit of hearing it again one of my indelible memories of that night has always been Sco and Coe going toe to toe centre stage on guitar and tenor sax respectively in an enthralling duet during the performance of Gibbs’ “Roses Are Red”.

Elements of funk helped to enliven “Gil643”, a Scofield composition presumably written as a tribute to Gil Evans. It represents a bitter-sweet experience to be hearing the sound of Kenny Wheeler’s typically eloquent solo again after all this time.

The energy levels and funk flavourings continued on Gibbs’ “Don’t Overdo it”, a piece written specifically for the tour that included solos from Scofield on guitar and the late Chris Pyne on trombone, plus the first of several features for the then rising star Bill Stewart at the drum kit.
The performance was crowned by a rousing big band style climax.

The first half ended on an unexpectedly gentle note with Gibbs’ delicate “Out Of The Question” which was introduced by Taylor’s crystalline solo piano while Scofield sounded almost Metheny-like on his solo.

At the start of the second set Scofield’s “Pretty Out” featured a scaled down version of the ensemble that offered soloing opportunities to Scofield, Taylor, Swallow and Stewart. But the most striking thing about hearing this performance twenty six years on is hearing the mercurial solo by Kenny Wheeler, a welcome reminder of just what a fiery player he could be.

Gibbs’ “Blueprint” was commissioned by his ‘alma mater, the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston but was actually premièred on this tour. Introduced by Stewart at the drums the piece boasted a big, resonant large ensemble sound and included solos from Scofield on guitar and the irrepressible Steve Swallow on nimble, dexterous five string electric bass.

Scofield’s “Science & Religion” represented a tour de force for the composer with its unaccompanied guitar intro and subsequent powerful, bluesy solo.

The final two pieces were a segue of Gibbs’ composition, “A World Without” combined with Scofield’s “Fat Lip”. Both retained elements of the blues, the first featuring Scofield’s guitar soloing above a richly textured backdrop and a supple bass and drum groove, the latter more overt and funky with Scofield and the entire band tearing it up on a barnstorming closer.

Hearing this concert in full again after more than a quarter of a century has been a richly rewarding experience, and not just because of the nostalgia involved. The music still sounds astonishingly fresh and contemporary, full of rich colours and textures, vibrant rhythms and inspired solos. It’s been a pleasure to absorb myself in the sound of this ensemble again after all this time and to revel in the finer details of this marvellous music making. This is music that sounds as vital today as it did when it was first played and recorded.

This double album represents an essential addition to the catalogues of both Mike Gibbs and John Scofield.  This is a collaboration that both men can look back on with satisfaction and pride and it’s good to see this music being made available in the public domain at last.

 


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