by Ian Mann
June 06, 2018
Music that is readily accessible to most jazz audiences but which has an agreeably irreverent and contemporary edge and swagger.
“Taking Flight” is the début album from “Fervour”, the Birmingham based quintet led by trumpeter and composer Sean Gibbs. The Edinburgh born Gibbs is a graduate of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire, as are his band mates Ben Lee (guitar), Andy Bunting (piano), Nick Jurd (bass) and Euan Palmer (drums). All have become significant presences on the jazz scene in Birmingham and beyond, with Gibbs recently making the move to London.
Gibbs has performed with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, the Calum Gourlay Big Band and the irreverent Birmingham brass ensemble Young Pilgrims. He has also played with and conducted the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra with whom he released the 2015 album “Burns” a set of compositions by Gibbs inspired by the works of Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns. Gibbs also appears on trumpet on a 2017 live album by the BJO featuring the writing of drummer and composer Tom Haines.
During his time in Birmingham Gibbs was a frequent visitor to the Spotted Dog venue in Digbeth and appears on both of the “Live At The Spotted Dog” compilation albums, leading the BJO in a performance of “Tam O’Shanter” from the “Burns” suite on the first and playing with Fervour on a rendition of “Cheer Up Old Bean” on the second. The second Spotted Dog album also finds him as part of a large ensemble of Birmingham based musicians led by guest saxophonist and composer Stan Sulzmann.
Others with whom Gibbs has worked include saxophonist Martin Kershaw, pianist and composer Stella Roberts and the Birmingham band, Trope.
Turning now to the music of Fervour which embraces a number of influences including jazz, rock and blues. “Taking Flight”, released in April 2018, was funded by a grant from Arts Council England which allowed the quintet to record the album at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios (the sound mix is excellent throughout) and to undertake a short promotional tour of the UK in May 2018.
The album consists of nine Gibbs originals and commences with the punchy, riffy “Go On Then” which combines jazz and rock rhythms to create a powerful ensemble sound. Gibbs himself takes the first solo on bright, fluent trumpet as his band brew up a storm behind him. He’s followed by Lee, one of the most inventive young guitarists to have emerged in recent years and himself the leader of his own quintet (album “In The Tree” released in2016). The band name Fervour was chosen to represent the “warmth, passion and honesty” of the playing, and there’s plenty of that in evidence here.
The woody sound of Jurd’s double bass introduces “What’s The Rush”, a piece whose languid grooves provide the backdrop for Gibbs’ vocalised, plunger muted trumpet solo, his New Orleans inspired growl juxtaposed against more contemporary rhythms. He’s followed by Bunting, a long term stalwart of the Birmingham jazz scene, who delivers a wryly inventive piano solo. There’s more from both Jurd and Gibbs himself as the piece resolves itself in suitably unhurried fashion.
“Spring At Last” has more of an orthodox jazz feel with the leader’s pure toned trumpet complemented by Lee’s coolly elegant guitar. Gibbs takes the first solo and again demonstrates his fluency and inventiveness. He’s followed by Bunting at the piano who delivers a flowing lyricism before Gibbs stretches out on trumpet once more.
“Don’t Hold Back” is a more upbeat take on the jazz tradition with something of a hard bop element about it, allied to a 60s ‘cop show’ feel. There’s a vivacious solo from the leader on trumpet followed by a lithe and slippery guitar solo from the excellent Lee and a subsequent series of dazzling exchanges between trumpet and guitar. Palmer, who demonstrates bags of rhythmic inventiveness throughout the album, delivers an engaging and well constructed drum feature prior to a final collective theme statement.
“Redemption” finds Gibbs moving to flugelhorn to demonstrate his skills as a balladeer as Palmer puts down the sticks and picks up the brushes. Lee, too, demonstrates his sensitive side with a lyrical yet insidious solo.
The title track raises the energy levels once more through its vibrant rhythms and soaring melodies with Gibbs’ effervescent trumpet leading the way. Bunting plays a prominent role at the piano, both rhythmically and as a soloist, and he’s the first to take to the skies, followed by the leader on trumpet. Towards the close Palmer enjoys a series of colourful exchanges with the rest of the group.
Perhaps appropriately “Well Kept Secrets” sees the group adopting a more introspective approach on a broodingly lyrical ballad that encompasses a melodic bass solo from Jurd and a mellifluous but expansive and richly imaginative trumpet solo from the leader.
The studio version of the aforementioned “Cheer Up Old Bean” is kicked off by Jurd’s bass and retains something of the joyousness that made the “Live At The Spotted Dog” performance so infectious. Gibbs and Lee dovetail effectively, buoyed by the springy grooves generated by Jurd and Palmer. Bunting takes the first solo, this time on acoustic piano rather then electric, but still sounding feverishly inventive. Gibbs then takes over for a breezy outing that again marks him out as one of the most exciting and imaginative young trumpet soloists around.
Appropriately the album concludes with “Adieu” with begins in delightfully bluesy fashion and incorporates a pleasingly idiosyncratic guitar solo from the inventive Lee that places a modern twist on the blues tradition via a filter of rock and jazz. Gibbs again adopts a vocalised trumpet sound for his own solo.
The “warmth, passion and honesty” of which Gibbs speaks certainly manifests itself in Fervour’s music and there’s a welcome touch of musical humour too, this isn’t a band that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Not that there’s anything frivolous about Fervour’s music either. The playing is of a uniformly high standard throughout and the soloing consistently fluent, inventive and imaginative. As leader it’s very much Gibbs’ album, he solos on every tune, but nevertheless it’s an excellent team performance too with everybody playing their part, whether as a soloist or as part of an admirably cohesive ensemble.
Besides his obvious abilities as a trumpeter I was also very impressed by Gibbs’ abilities as a writer. His compositions draw upon the jazz tradition and add those promised elements of rock and blues but manage to do so in a way that never sounds contrived or clichéd. The result is music that is readily accessible to most jazz audiences but which has an agreeably irreverent and contemporary edge and swagger.
I’d certainly be happy to hear more from this quintet and now rather find myself regretting having missed their recent tour. Hopefully there will be more albums and live performances to come from this highly talented young band.
“Taking Flight” is available from Bandcamp https://seangibbs.bandcamp.com/album/taking-flight
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