by Ian Mann
October 27, 2021
The quality of the playing is excellent throughout and the soloing fluent and inventive. Repeated listening also reveals the subtleties of the compositions and arrangements.
“When Can I See You Again?”
(Ubuntu Music UBU0083)
Sean Gibbs – trumpet, Riley Stone-Lonergan – tenor saxophone, Rob Brockway – piano, Calum Gourlay – bass, Jay Davis – drums
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.
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.
Gibbs has also appeared with saxophonist Martin Kershaw, pianist and composer Stella Roberts, trombonist Rory Ingham, the Calum Gourlay Big Band, Jim Rattigan’s Pavillon, Eliza Carthy’s Wayward 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.
Gibbs’ second small group recording features a London based quintet including tenor saxophonist Riley Stone-Lonergan, pianist Rob Brockway, drummer Jay Davis and fellow Scot Calum Gourlay on double bass.
It’s another example of the ‘lockdown’ album, as its title might suggest. Gibbs album notes take up the story;
“This album is a collection of music written in the year 2020. It’s largely about celebrating the human connections that I’d sometimes taken for granted, many of which became sorely missed during the pandemic. It was an immense privilege to record these pieces with some of my favourite musicians, big thanks to them and everyone else who made it possible”.
The album was recorded at two separate sessions at Sansom Studios in March and November 2020 and the seven original Gibbs compositions are firmly rooted in the jazz tradition, with classic Blue Note hard bop an obvious touchstone. It’s therefore perhaps appropriate that I recently enjoyed a live performance featuring Gibbs, this being an Art Blakey themed concert by Rory Ingham’s sextet at The Hive in Shrewsbury. The trumpeter impressed with the quality of his playing, as did all members of the band. Review here;
Turning now to the new album. The title of the opening “Internal Conflict” encapsulates the feelings of many of us towards the pandemic and the mixed messaging of the government. Introduced by Brockway at the piano the tune is possessed with a nervous rhythmic energy that helps to fuel the powerful but fluent horn soloing of Gibbs on trumpet and Stone-Lonergan on tenor. The pair also combine effectively on the ensemble sections and drummer Davis features strongly towards the close.
Brockway, recently heard to good effect on trumpeter Duncan Fraser’s “Soundscapes of Manhattan” album, also introduces “Happy Hour”. The mood is more relaxed, but still vibrant, with Gibbs again leading off the solos, followed by Stone-Lonergan. Again both horns are bright and eloquent. Brockway also gets the opportunity to impress as a soloist with a brief sortie at the piano.
“Mary” is a tender ballad that features Gibbs’ playing at its most soulful and mellifluous. Gourlay steps forward to deliver a melodic and lyrical double bass solo, supported by Brockway’s sympathetic piano chording and Davis’ deft and subtle brushwork. Gibbs then takes up the reins again, the warmth of his trumpet tone almost flugel-like.
The “Grand Parade” was inspired by Gibbs’ first London home, a house share with saxophonist Helena Kay and pianist Alex Maydew. The driving energy of the piece, with Davis’ drums often coming to the fore, evokes the bustle of the capital as the quintet come on like some kind of mini big band. Gibbs’ experience of working with large ensembles is often reflected in his small group arrangements. The quintet vary their angle of attack here with Stone-Lonergan taking the first solo, swiftly followed by Gibbs, both horns blazing incandescently. Brockway, a powerful and supportive rhythmic presence throughout, breaks cover to deliver a similarly dazzling piano solo. Davis’ volcanic drum feature is set within a dynamic big band style arrangement.
Of the next piece, “That’s Your Lot”, Gibbs says;
“’That’s Your Lot’ was written about feeling content with my lot in life and realising what really matters, when so much was taken away with the pandemic”
The warmth of the arrangement suggests such contentment, the two horns blending mellifluously on the theme, as well as subtly playing off each other in a relaxed dialogue. Brockway takes the first solo, his playing both lyrical and expansive. Gibbs then takes over on trumpet, soloing with his customary fluency and assurance. Gourlay then takes over at the bass, dexterous and melodic. Thanks to his immaculate time keeping it’s sometimes easy for listeners to forget just how accomplished he is as a double bass soloist.
“Camperdown” is named after a play park in Dundee and is an evocation of Gibbs’ childhood. There’s a warmly nostalgic glow about the music, with the composer’s burnished trumpet tone at the heart of the arrangement. Gibbs takes the first solo, followed by Stone-Lonergan, the saxophonist’s tone warm and loquacious but still imbued with an underlying power and earthiness. Gourlay also steps forward again, it’s rare for a bassist to be featured so prominently on somebody else’s record – another tribute to Gourlay’s abilities.
The album closes with the title track, which skilfully blends wistfulness with optimism, emerging from a twin horn chorale to embrace a gently shuffling groove. Gibbs and Stone-Lonergan combine effectively before making engaging individual statements, the saxophonist gong first. Brockway is also featured as a soloist and the piece becomes increasingly playful and joyous as it progresses, ending this pandemic inspired album on a hopeful note.
Gibbs’ album may be rooted in the tradition but he and his fine young band bring genuine enthusiasm and energy to the music. The quality of the playing is excellent throughout and the soloing fluent and inventive. Repeated listening also reveals the subtleties of the compositions and arrangements. Overall the album is a good representation of Gibbs’ talents as both a musician and a composer.
The quality of the playing and writing is enhanced by the production, courtesy of Gibbs and the engineering team of Olly Sansom and Peter Beckmann. The clarity of the mix serves all the musicians well and enables the listener to savour the contrasting horn styles of Gibbs and Stone-Lonergan, the sweetness of the former’s trumpet tone balanced by the earthier sound of the latter’s tenor.
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