by Ian Mann
October 17, 2016
An impressively mature artistic statement that showcases Gibson's skills as both a performer and a composer.
(Pathway Records PBCD 0113)
Will Gibson is a thirty year old saxophonist, clarinettist and composer based in London. “Facets”, one of a crop of recent releases on the Pathway record label founded by fellow saxophonist Paul Booth, represents his leadership début and is an impressively mature artistic statement that showcases Gibson’s skills as both a performer and a composer.
Gibson first learnt clarinet and piano, switching to saxophone aged fourteen after coming under the spell of John Coltrane. He subsequently joined the Berkshire based Pendulum Jazz Orchestra under the directorship of Patrick Kelly.
Gibson later studied at Trinity College of Music, where his tutors included Julian Siegel and Mark Lockheart, graduating in 2009. He has subsequently appeared with a broad and impressive range of artists across both the jazz and classical spectrums performing with large ensembles and with smaller groups. A frequent award winner for both his playing and composing Gibson’s big band piece “Solicitude” took second place in the 2012 Dankworth Awards for composition and was performed by the Trinity College Big Band at Ronnie Scott’s.
For “Facets” Gibson has assembled a seven piece band, many of them long standing colleagues from his Trinity days. Gibson himself plays tenor & soprano sax plus bass clarinet and the septet is completed by Steve Pringle on piano and a variety of electric keyboards, Leo Appleyard on electric guitar, Kevin Glasgow on electric bass, Paul Jordanous on trumpet, Tom White on trombone and Chris Nickolls at the drums. The broad instrumental palette ensures that as a composer Gibson has plenty of colour to work with and the nine original compositions cover a wide stylistic range embracing elements of classical music as well as jazz, soul and funk.
The album commences with the suitably episodic “Storybook”, a nine and a half minute composition that combines a rich blend of colours and textures with a Metheny like sense of melody. Gibson plays bass clarinet in the tunes early stages, combining well with his fellow horn players Jordanous and White. Meanwhile Pringle exhibits a classical lightness of touch at the piano and indeed there’s something of a ‘chamber’ feel about the subtly nuanced opening passages. Gibson later stretches out thoughtfully on tenor, subtly probing above the sensitive support offered by Pringle, Glasgow and Nickolls. Pringle is the second featured soloist, his playing limpid and lyrical. But overall it’s the richly hued ensemble passages that impress the most, the maturity of Gibson’s writing and arranging enhanced by some fine playing and by the skills of an engineering team including Pringle plus Phil Bagenal, Jake Gordon, Jules Jackson and Peter Beckmann.
Events take a livelier turn with the breezy, joyous, subtly funky “Altair” with Pringle here featuring on Fender Rhodes. Again Gibson takes the first solo on tenor, extemporising fluently above the busy grooves generated by Rhodes, electric bass and drums. Glasgow is the next to feature on his distinctive six string bass. Glasgow is a true virtuoso on the instrument and has worked with guitarists Nicolas Meier and David Preston plus drummer Asaf Sirkis since first coming to the attention of the jazz public as a member of saxophonist Tommy Smith’s ‘Karma’ group.
“Ziggurat” maintains the energy levels with some arresting unison horn passages in the tune’s early stages, these well supported by a punchy rhythm section featuring Pringle on Rhodes. Gibson enjoys a series of engaging tenor / guitar exchanges with Appleyard as the latter, a bandleader in his own right, takes the limelight for the first time. Also taking his bow as a soloist is White who impresses with his fluency and inventiveness while bringing a welcome additional earthiness to the music.
“As You Were” is another nine minute epic and one that exhibits many of the same virtues as the opener. A strong melodic theme is stated by Gibson on tenor, this forming the basis for later solos from the expansive but lyrical Pringle on piano and the coolly elegant Appleyard on guitar.
“Troubleshooting” takes the group into more overt funk/fusion territory with Glasgow’s bubbling electric bass groove the bedrock for some bright, brassy unison horn passages. Pringle adds synthesiser and clavinet to his arsenal as Gibson heads the solos with some muscular tenor sax, followed by Jordanous with a skilfully constructed trumpet feature.
As its title might suggest “Light Vessel Automatic” is a far more impressionistic piece with Gibson’s soprano keening gently above a backdrop of atmospherically shimmering Rhodes and Nickolls’ gently brushed drums.
The title track begins quietly with Glasgow’s electric bass pulse and develops gradually to embrace airy sax melodies and a subtly blues tinged guitar solo from Appleyard. Gibson then takes over again with a slow burning tenor solo above a backdrop of layered keyboards and Nickolls’ implacable drum grooves. The drummer is then featured more extensively in the tune’s closing stages as he circumnavigates his kit above an undulating keyboard backwash.
Pringle deploys both Hammond and Rhodes sounds for the seventies style soul jazz/fusion of “Hemispheres”, combining well with Appleyard’s guitar melody lines and the punchy unison horn charts. With Nickolls laying down a propulsive backbeat there are lively features for White on trombone and Jordanous on trumpet with both soloists impressing with their power, imagination and fluency. There are also shorter cameos from the other musicians.
There’s also something of a retro feel on the closing “Secret Path” with its laid back, subtly funky groove underpinning Gibson’s fluent but emotive tenor solo. Appleyard’s guitar sound is heavily treated, to the point that I’m not 100% certain that the next solo is actually his, and Pringle adopts a variety of keyboard sounds.
With its blend of acoustic and electric instruments and mix of jazz styles “Facets” represents an impressively mature début from Gibson. His writing is intelligent and melodic and the playing by an impressive young crop of rising stars is consistently excellent. As ever the presence of Alban Lowe’s distinctive artwork represents something of a bonus.
In the main the music on “Facets” is relatively tightly arranged but one can imagine Gibson and his colleagues stretching out more fully in a live environment. The quality of the performances on the album suggests that this should be a band well worth catching live. The official album launch is on Thursday 20th October 2016 at the Bull’s Head in Barnes, London. Details of this, plus other gigs by the Will Gibson Septet are listed below;
18th October 2016 – Parr Jazz, Liverpool
20th October 2016 – The Bull’s Head, Barnes, London – Album launch
20th November 2016 – Southampton Modern Jazz Club
25th November 2016 – BAM Festival, Southbank Centre London
15th January 2017 – Omnibus, Clapham, London
22nd February 2017 – Swing Unlimited, Bournemouth
For further information please visit http://www.willgibsonmusic.co.uk
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