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The World View of Mike Gibbs Print

griffith_frank_6_68.jpg In October 2007, the New World Rhythms of Mike Gibbs toured the U.K.   Frank Griffith wrote the programme notes for the tour, which form the substance of the article, below.

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Rhythm Changes - the World View of Mike Gibbs

gibbs_mike150x130.jpg In 2007, at a time of frequent stylistic categorisation in music it seems appropriate that the 70th year of composer and arranger Mike Gibbs was celebrated with a UK tour.   His musical palette embraces many and excludes few genres.   Jazz, it can be argued, was the first and most enduring world music and I cannot think of a better practitioner and example of this than Mike Gibbs.   Born and raised in Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) Mike has lived and worked in Boston, New York City, London and most recently Malaga, Spain.   His musical influences are no less diverse having cited Messiaen, Ives, Ellington and Gil Evans as well as African township music as all contributing to his oeuvre.   All of which were present in the music of this tour.   Regarding his embracing both jazz and classical musics, Mike has said 'I know I am in two fields, but they really overlap for me and become one field.   I have no problem switching; it is just one big palette'.   Similarly, his musicians embodied a wide range of nationalities and influences with an equal mix of Americans and Europeans.   All hand-picked by the maestro not necessarily for their differing sovereignties but for their distinctive abilities in interpreting his music.

Like many other great writers such as Ellington, Evans and Sir John Dankworth, Gibbs's ensemble and selected solo voices are the vehicle and platform for his musical personality and expression.   Innovative figures such as Gary Burton, John McLaughlin, Tony Coe, Steve Swallow and Bob Moses have collaborated with Gibbs in the last forty years.   This tour boasted individuals like Bill Frisell, Swallow, Chris Hunter and Henry Lowther, among others.   All of whom undoubtedly were brought to the fore as soloists.   As to when and how they are featured was, apparently, a process that evolved during the rehearsals.   When asked how guitarist Bill Frisell could be showcased Mike said that he planned on giving him a rhythm section part with instructions 'to insinuate himself (into the proceedings), and instigate whatever he deems appropriate'.

One of the most significant contributions that Gibbs has made to the big band canon is the integration and frequent usage of post 1960s rhythmic grooves from funk, rock and soul beats with more traditional melodic and harmonic settings.   In addition, Gibbs has cultivated a distinctive melodicism in his technique of shaping a type of circular, winding melody that is somewhat hypnotic in nature.   As if it interweaves upon itself, eating away inwardly yet never sacrificing the relentless theme which always reigns victorious in the end.   Featured solo voices often include wailing soprano sax, plunger-muted, guttural trumpet and fleet fingered guitarists thundering away over an arsenal of drums and percussive effects.

gregorys_two_girls100.jpgIn addition to his wide-ranging jazz big band and pop credits, Gibbs has composed many film scores most notably those with director, Bill Forsyth.   They include Housekeeping(1987), Breaking In(1989), Being Human (1993)and Gregory's Two Girls (1999).   While he firmly believes that film scoring has affected and influenced his writing overall, he's not exactly clear on how.   It could be argued that it has exposed him to a wider array of orchestral colours to utilise in trying less conventional instrumental combinations.   One of these being a smaller than standard saxophone section (two or three) along with a larger nine piece brass section including horn.   His adaptation of You Get The Picture from the Nonsequence CD was originally a theme from Gregory's Two Girls, which might provide the listener with some insight into this genre crossing.

Jazz writer Richard Cook has said of Mike - 'Gibbs has the gift that all great leaders of the bands seem to require: that of making complex and daring ideas seem natural and inevitable.   He could move from sun-kissed delight to moonstruck melancholy in a moment.   He always makes one feel the breadth and power of a big band, though, insisting on its weight and sonic force rather than breaking it down or using simple solo accompaniment strategies'.

The New World Rhythms of Mike Gibbs, celebrating his 70th year, represent an epic milestone but additionally presented many new opportunities.   That of renewing and recycling older pieces as well as adapting music from other genres to his wide compositional and improvisational palette.   Long may he strive forth with his unique eclecticism, fully embracing this most global of musics.

Frank Griffith.

Mike Gibbs Band Personnel for the tour, from: Mike Gibbs(ldr/conducor)
Reeds: Chris Hunter, Stan Sulzmann, Julian Siegel,
Trumpets: Henry Lowther, Gerard Presencer, Claus Stötter, John Barclay, Richard Turner, Noel Langley,
Trombones: Jeremy Price, Andy Wood, Sarah Williams, Pete Beachill,
French Horn: Jim Rattigan,
Rhythm: Hans Koller (pno), Bill Frisell (gtr), Steve Swallow (bass), Adam Nussbaum (drs).

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Jazzorg Note: non_sequence_cd.jpg.   The Mike Gibbs tour was under the auspices of Basho Music.   Unfortunately, a recording of the band on this tour is not available but Mike Gibbs discography can be accessed at [this link] and his current albums can be reviewed by clicking the Nonsequence image.

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