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Zoe Gilby

Twelve Stories


by Ian Mann

January 08, 2014


A mix of intelligent original songs and innovative arrangements of tunes by both jazz and pop composers. It's the quality of the original songs that make this jazz vocal album stand out from the pack.

Zoe Gilby

“Twelve Stories”

(33 Jazz 33JAZZ236)

Zoe Gilby is an ambitious jazz vocalist from the North East of England who is steadily gaining a national reputation. I first encountered her singing at the 2010 Lichfield Real Ale, Jazz & Blues Festival when she gave an enjoyable trio performance in the company of double bassist Andy Champion and guitarist Mark Williams, both of whom appear on this disc. The album line up is completed by trumpeter Noel Dennis and drummer Richard Brown. 

“Twelve Stories” represents Gilby’s third album release in a series that began with the sassy “Now That I Am Real” (2007),  a recording which saw her fronting an octet led by drummer Tony Faulkner. The more intimate “Looking Glass” appeared in 2010, a small group record that was closer in spirit to the current release and which was recorded with the same personnel. Both “Looking Glass” and “Twelve Stories” offer a similar mix of intelligent original songs and innovative arrangements of tunes by both jazz and pop composers. On the new album the split is exactly 50/50 with the covers including songs from such unlikely sources as Kate Bush, Pink Floyd and the veteran Welsh hard rock/heavy metal band Budgie. On the other hand perhaps it isn’t so surprising when one reflects on Champion’s prog rock past and his leadership of the highly acclaimed prog/jazz outfit ACV whose albums “Fail In Wood” and “Busk” are reviewed elsewhere on this site.

Champion is Gilby’s life partner and the pair also make an excellent song writing team with guitarist Mark Williams also heavily involved in the creative process (five of the original pieces are credited to Gilby/Champion/Williams). Gilby’s liner notes also acknowledge the influence of author Patrick Hamilton (1904-1962) whose novels “Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky” and “Gorse Trilogy” helped to inspire the lyrics of the songs “Guilty Man” and “The Midnight Bell”.

All of the songs on the album have been chosen for their story telling qualities and we begin with an innovative segue of Michel Legrand’s “Windmills Of Your Mind” and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Waters Of March”. The Legrand song serves as an introduction with Gilby’s semi spoken vocal shadowed by Champion’s grainy but expressive arco bass. The Jobim piece offers a change of pace and also involves Williams and Brown as Gilby sings the evocative, image laden lyrics and also gives notice of her scatting abilities.

The first original song “Is It Me?” offers a caustic commentary on the media driven modern world and adds the trumpet of Dennis to the instrumental palette. The tune fairly bustles along with pithy but hugely impressive instrumental solos from Dennis and Champion.

Kate Bush’s “In The Warm Room” offers something more sensual and intimate with Gilby offering a superb interpretation of the lyric in an empathic duet with guitarist Williams.

“Guilty Man” is the first of the two pieces inspired by the writings of Patrick Hamilton. It’s the tale of a slippery and manipulative womaniser as interpreted by the regular quartet of Gilby, Champion, Williams and Brown. The guitarist is the featured instrumental soloist but Brown’s imaginative drumming also captivates the ear.

“Red Headed Girl” is the next original song. Introduced by a passage of solo bass the lyrics are delivered by Gilby in the third person but are very likely partly autobiographical. Williams’ guitar solo is an effective mix of jazz chording and pop melody.

Also from the Gilby/Champion/Williams song writing school comes “In It Together” an attractive love song rather than a comment on Mr Cameron’s much ridiculed remark. Pithy instrumental solos come from Dennis on flugelhorn and Champion at the bass.

In the summer of 2013 I saw Gilby perform again at the Titley Jazz festival in my native Herefordshire. Frankly it was nowhere near as enjoyable as the Lichfield show, partly because much of the performance paired Gilby with A J Brown, a young male singer from the Rat Pack / Robbie Williams retro school. I couldn’t stand him, and most of the Titley regulars seemed to feel the same way. Prior to Brown’s hi-jacking of the proceedings Gilby had performed a number of songs (mainly standards) on her own with one of the highlights being “The Midnight Bell”, written by Gilby and Champion and again inspired by the books of Patrick Hamilton. The recorded version is a lovely quintet reading with Gilby’s sensuous blues tinged vocal drawing the listener into the gritty twilight world of the lyrics. Dennis’ smoky, muted trumpet adds to the after hours atmosphere.

Accapella vocals usher in a languid and emotive version of Rogers & Hart’s ballad “It Never Entered My Mind” with Gilby’s sensitive interpretation of the lyric augmented by Dennis’ velvety flugelhorn, Williams’ gentle chording, Champion’s sympatico bass and Brown’s delicately brushed drums. 

“Red City” , another original song, begins with sampled crowd noises before giving way to the sound of Champion’s muscular bass playing. As Gilby and the rest of the band join in the lyrics evoke the sights and sounds of a North African city (web research suggests Marrakesh). The insistent music is equally effective with an authentic and exotic Moroccan tinge. It’s very different to the rest of the album, captivating and really rather splendid.

In my youth I had a degree of fondness for the Cardiff based power trio Budgie but this had waned by 1973, the year of the release of their third album “Never Turn Your Back On A Friend” from which “Parents” comes. Thus I’m not particularly familiar with the original save to say that it’s a good deal more subtle than much of Budgie’s output. Gilby changes the gender of the lyrics but otherwise sings it fairly straight. Mark Williams retains Tony Bourge’s guitar hook (which in turned seemed to borrow from the Beatles) and also contributes a rather jazzier solo. Credited to the original Budgie line up of Bourge, Burke Shelley (bass, vocals), and Ray Phillips (drums) it came as something of a surprise to discover just what a good song “Parents” is and how well it stands up forty years after it was written. Gilby’s interpretation is a fine homage to the original.

Of a similar vintage but rather more familiar is Pink Floyd’s “Money” from the enduring “Dark Side Of The Moon” album. With a bass line to die for it’s a gift to Champion and this bass/vocal duet by the husband and wife team, including an exuberant scat episode, is great fun. I’m sure it’s a tremendously popular item at Gilby’s live shows but the sheer familiarity of the piece means that it’s less convincing on record despite the radical treatment.

Equally familiar, but this time in a jazz context, is “Caravan”, written by Juan Tizol and made famous by Duke Ellington. Gilby sings Irving Mills’ lyrics and also scats convincingly but the piece is also a feature for the members of the quintet with trumpeter Dennis and particularly drummer Brown getting plenty of space in an adventurous arrangement. 

Recorded in Gilby’s native Tyneside “Twelve Stories” is a typically classy 33 Records production. It shows an adventurous singer in fine form tackling a range of interesting material and bringing out the best in her instrumental colleagues. The covers are, in the main, well chosen and the arrangements colourful and imaginative. However for my money it’s the original songs that impress the most with their strong melodies and intelligent lyrics. It might not make the best commercial sense but I’d like to hear a set of Gilby/Champion/Williams originals next time out provided they can maintain the quality of the material to be heard here. It’s the original songs that make this jazz vocal album stand out from the pack.

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