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Tom Gibbs

Fear of Flying


by Ian Mann

October 30, 2012


An impressive offering from Gibbs that combines melodic and consistently interesting compositions with some great playing.

Tom Gibbs

“Fear of Flying”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4626)

English born pianist and composer Tom Gibbs has been resident in Glasgow since 2007 and has become an important figure on the Scottish jazz scene working with many of that country’s leading musicians including guitarist Graeme Stephen and saxophonists Paul Towndrow, Konrad Wisniewski, Phil Bancroft and Martin Kershaw. I recently saw him perform live at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny as part of drummer Stu Brown’s intriguing “Twisted Toons” project exploring the music of film composer and musical inventor Raymond Scott.

Gibbs gained a Music Masters at York University and was mentored by pianist John Taylor and saxophonist Julian Arguelles, two of Britain’s greatest ever jazz musicians; the influence of both can still be heard in his writing and playing. He later studied in New York with pianist Jason Moran and trumpeter Ralph Alessi and has worked with international figures such as American drummer Ari Hoenig and Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius.

In 2010 Gibbs released the acclaimed album “Forgotten Things”, a quartet date co-led with Scottish bassist Euan Burton and featuring Hoenig and New York based guitarist Gilad Hekselman. Burton, whose own acclaimed “Occurrences” was recently reviewed on this site, appears again here alongside saxophonist Will Vinson (alto & soprano), a young British musician who is rapidly gaining a reputation in New York, and drummer of the moment James Maddren. They form a highly talented quartet that ensures that “Fear Of Flying” constitutes a hugely impressive album. The title is derived from a fear of flight that Gibbs only developed after the recent birth of his daughter. He explains this newly found phobia in full in the album’s notes.

Recorded at Castlesound Studios in Scotland but mixed in New York by star engineer Tyler McDiarmid “Fear Of Flying” boasts an excellent sound that serves Gibbs’ compositions well. Gibbs writes at the piano, sketching out chords and singing melodies until he finds something he likes. This relaxed method of composing gives his tunes a “songs without words quality” as exemplified by the lively and catchy opening track “Jumanji”. The tune reveals a tightly knit band that excels in tricky interplay between sax and piano with Maddren’s busily inventive drumming adding a further voice to the discourse. Vinson’s sax is agile and mercurial and immediately grabs the attention but it’s the equally nimble Gibbs and the consistently excellent Burton who emerge as the principal soloists, the latter as the music abruptly changes pace.

“Rebecca Song (Parts 1/2)” is a tender and delightful dedication to Gibbs’ young daughter. Once again the song like quality of Gibbs’ writing is apparent in the joyous and beautiful melody, but it’s not all sweetness and light, as Gibbs stretches out on his solo there’s an underlying grittiness that keeps the tune the right side of saccharine. The second part of the tune is more reflective and culminates with Vinson’s sax musing above an insistent piano figure.

“The Trip” sees Vinson at his fluent best stretching out on alto above Maddren’s odd meter grooves and trading ideas with Gibbs prior to a rather sudden ending.

“The Smile That Never Forgets” is another gorgeous Gibbs tune and one that possesses a strong narrative arc. Vinson impresses with his opening statement but it’s Gibbs expansive but lyrical piano solo that is central to the piece and which ultimately carries the day.

The enigmatically titled “Seventy-Eight” is another good reminder of the quartet’s admirable closeness and spirit of group interaction with Gibbs subtly leading the way through the tune’s numerous variations of mood and pace.

“A Little Something” is a genuine ballad performance with gently brooding alto and delicately brushed drums. Gibbs is at his most lyrical and Burton also plays a pivotal role with his sensitive playing.

I love the title of “Daily Brad”, which I can only conceive as being a homage to Mr. Mehldau. The piece is actually less knotty and Brad-like than the title might suggest. With a typically attractive Gibbs melody it’s actually closer to another ballad but with Vinson’s slightly acerbic alto tone adding an element of bite. Gibbs closing piano solo is underpinned by Vinson’s long melodic lines and includes absorbing dialogue with the ever busy and inventive Maddren.

“Farming Stock” is perhaps the most intriguing item on the record, a piece that Gibbs claims to have originated when he “tried to play a gut bucket twelve bar blues backwards, eventually sending the song in the direction of a mangled Scottish reel which builds in intensity to its completion”. The piece is as busy and energetic as the title might suggest with some suitably bluesy honking from Vinson and the pianistic equivalent from Gibbs. 

Another example of Gibbs’ way with a title is “Tiny Leaps” which I can only assume to be a reference to that jazz touchstone “Giant Steps” by John Coltrane whilst possibly also nodding in the direction of young Rebecca at the same time. No doubt more musically literate listeners will be able to inform me if Gibbs uses the same chord sequence as JC but in any event the piece is an invigorating way to close the album with Gibbs, Vinson and particularly Maddren all featuring strongly.

“Fear Of Flying” is an impressive offering from Gibbs which combines melodic and consistently interesting compositions with some great playing. This is a highly interactive group and the chemistry between the musicians is excellent throughout.

Gibbs and his quartet will be taking this music out on the road during November 2012. Dates are as follows;

22 November
Aberdeen - The Blue Lamp,  121 Gallowgate,  AB25 1BU 01224 647472   £10/£8

24 November
Edinburgh - House Concerts at 42, 42 Royal Park Terrace, EH8 8JA .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  /  £10

25 November
Newcastle - Splinter at The Bridge, Castle Garth, NE1 1RQ
0191 232 6400

26 November
Leeds - Sela Bar, 20 New Briggate Leeds, West Yorkshire LS1 6NU
0113 242 9442, 07807327144  £10/£8

27 November
Cardiff - Dempsey’s, 15 Castle Street Cardiff CF10 1BS
029 2023 9253

28 November
London - 606 Club, 90 Lots Road Chelsea SW10 0QD *LAUNCH*
020 7352 5953  / £10

29 November
Poole - Soundcellar at The Blue Boar, 29 Market Close, Poole, BH15 1NE /  £7.50

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