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Sean Gibbs


by Ian Mann

January 04, 2023


Following the success of his 2021 quintet album Gibbs impresses once more with this highly accomplished large ensemble offering as he blends conventional big band sounds with more modern developments.

Sean Gibbs


(Ubuntu Music UBU0124)

Sean Gibbs, James Davison, Freddie Gavita – trumpets
James Copus – trumpet, flugelhorn

Tom Dunnett, Kieran McLeod, Richard Foote – trombones
Richard Henry – bass trombone

George Millard – alto & soprano sax
James Gardiner-Bateman – alto sax
Helena Kay, Riley Stone-Lonergan – tenor saxes
Chris Maddock – baritone sax

Rob Brockway – piano
Calum Gourlay – bass
Jay Davis – drums

Released in November 2022 “Confluence” is the second album release under his own name by the trumpeter and composer Sean Gibbs, a large ensemble recording that is,  in his own words, “my biggest project to date”.

It represents a follow up to 2021’s excellent lockdown inspired quintet recording “When Will I See You Again?” which featured five of the musicians that appear on this new big band album; Gibbs, tenor saxophonist Stone-Lonergan and the rhythm section of Brockway, Gourlay and Davis. Featuring Gibbs’ writing exclusively the album is reviewed here;

The “When Will I See You Again?” again review forms the basis for the following biography of Gibbs;

Now based in London the young trumpeter and composer Sean Gibbs was born in Edinburgh and played in numerous youth jazz ensembles including The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra and the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland. He has maintained his links with his homeland and is currently a member of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (SNJO).

Gibbs moved south to study on the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire, graduating with first class honours in 2015 and winning the BMus Jazz Prize. His trumpet teachers included Percy Pursglove and Richard Iles and he was also mentored by such illustrious visiting tutors as Mark Turner, Kenny Garrett, Maria Schneider, Joe Lovano, Dave Holland and the late John Taylor.

During his time in Birmingham Gibbs was an integral part of the city’s jazz scene appearing at such venues as the Spotted Dog in Digbeth and performing with bands such as Trope, the brass ensemble Young Pilgrims, the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra and the Mike Fletcher Jazz Orchestra.

Gibbs was also the leader and principal composer of the Birmingham based quintet Fervour featuring fellow Conservatoire graduates Ben Lee (guitar), Andy Bunting (piano), Nick Jurd (bass) and Euan Palmer (drums). This ensemble released an excellent début album, “Taking Flight”, in 2018. Review here;

Gibbs both 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.

Gibbs’ discography also includes recordings by Trope, Young Pilgrims, the SNJO and the Keywork Orchestra, led by Scottish saxophonist Paul Towndrow. He is also featured on both volumes of the “Live at The Spotted Dog” compilation albums, released to help raise funds for the venue.

In 2021 he was part of the ensemble that appeared on bassist and composer Daniel Casimir’s exceptional “Boxed In” album, released on the Jazz re;freshed label. Review here;

Gibbs has also appeared with saxophonists Martin Kershaw and Stan Sulzmann, pianists Stella Roberts and Alex Maydew, trombonist Rory Ingham, vocalists Georgia Cecile and Hannah Williams, the Calum Gourlay Big Band, Jim Rattigan’s Pavillon, Eliza Carthy’s Wayward Band, the Charlie Bates Big Band and Chris Dean’s Syd Lawrence Orchestra.

As a composer he has written for the SNJO, the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra and the Greater Manchester Jazz Orchestra. His compositions have also been performed in the USA by the University of Miami’s Frost Studio Jazz Band.

Of this new large ensemble recording Gibbs says;
“The title refers to different aspects of my musical and personal life which seemed to come together at the right time to make it happen. It also represents the joyous gathering of so many incredible musicians. I’m immensely grateful to everyone involved”.

He continues;
“I wrote with specific players in mind and it was incredibly rewarding to hear what they brought to my compositions. I wanted to stay true to the fundamentals that resonate with me – lyrical melodies, hearty grooves and a deep connection to the blues. Having a world class seventeen piece band to work with brought these concepts to new heights and opened up so many more possibilities”.

Recorded in May 2022 “Confluences” therefore represents Gibbs’ ‘post lockdown album’ and brings together some of the brightest young stars of the UK jazz scene. The programme features six new Gibbs compositions with the composer’s album notes giving a brief thumbnail sketch of each.

Things kick off with “Lewis”,  which Gibbs dedicates to “my baby nephew, who’s a really special little guy”. Initially there’s a relaxed, laid back feel to an arrangement that features some rich and colourful horn voicings and which is subtly propelled by Gorlay’s languid bass and Davis’ brushed drums. It’s Gibbs’ album and he allows himself plenty of solo space throughout the recording. He takes the first solo here, performing with an admirable fluency. The music then begins to gather momentum and urgency as Davis switches to sticks. There’s now more of a contemporary feel about the music as alto saxophonist Gardiner-Bateman takes over as the featured soloist, his incisive soloing combining power with fluency.

“New Beginnings” was inspired by “an opportunity for reinvention, coming out of the lockdowns of the last couple of years”. It’s a piece that demonstrates Gibbs’ command of both texture and dynamics and which features James Copus, on flugelhorn I think, as the first soloist. It’s perhaps no coincidence that Gibbs names Kenny Wheeler as his primary influence in terms of writing for big band (inspired by Wheeler’s “Music for Large and Small Ensembles”), inevitably followed by Duke Ellington and Count Basie. There’s also an extended feature for drummer Jay Davis, who circumnavigates his kit in an innately musical manner, his excursions underpinned by Brockway’s piano vamp.

Of the punning title of “Gibb It Some More” the composer observes “probably not worth explaining”. A rousing arrangement adds an element of funk to the proceedings with Davis driving the music forward from the kit. There’s some punchy ensemble work and agile solos from tenor saxophonist Helena Kay and from Gibbs himself on trumpet.

By way of contrast “Tomorrow Will Come” is a beautiful and elegant big band ballad featuring lush ensemble textures and the mellow, rounded tones of soloist Tom Dunnett on trombone. Of the title Gibbs remarks; “‘Tomorrow Will Come’ is something I try to remind myself of in my darkest moments”.

The title of “Juggling Act” is a reference to “the life of a freelance musician”. The piece features a swinging and ebullient arrangement that incorporates some dazzling ensemble passages plus expansive solos from Gibbs and pianist Rob Brockway. Davis enjoys a number of brief drum fills and his playing, in conjunction with Gourlay’s bass really drives the band.  The solos, particularly that of Brockway, allow for moments of contrast and reflection, these perhaps implicit in the tune title.

The album concludes with “Hungover Moments of Clarity”, a piece that Gibbs describes as representing “the emotional intensity of a savage hangover”. Solo piano ushers in the piece, followed by the sounds of Maddock’s baritone sax, plus double bass and brushed drums. The full ensemble joins to add typically rich and colourful textures, out of which emerges the subtly probing tenor sax ruminations of featured soloist Riley Stone-Lonergan. As Stone-Lonergan’s solo reaches resolution the full band kicks in with some mighty collective blowing, before the piece finally winds down with Brockway again at the piano.

Following his success with the quintet album “When Can I See You Again?” Gibbs impresses once more with this highly accomplished large ensemble offering. He had already made his talents known as a big band composer with the “Burns” album and this time round he consolidates his reputation in this area with the help of a stellar London based ensemble.

Gibbs is particularly adept at blending the conventional big band sounds of Ellington and Basie with more modern Kenny Wheeler inspired developments to create an ensemble sound that is very much his own. He is capable of melding the two styles together during the course of any given piece and he makes effective use of colour, texture, dynamics and contrast, all essential items in the tool box of any contemporary big band composer.

As an instrumental soloist Gibbs performs with great fluency and assurance and he allows himself ample room to express himself in this area. But he is also generous enough to allow plenty of space to other soloists within the band’s ranks and all of these acquit themselves admirably.

A combination of economics and logistics will doubtless prevent the regular live performance of this material but it would be good to see the Gibbs Big Band at one of the major UK jazz festivals should the opportunity ever present itself.

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