Mike Gibbs 70th Birthday Concert at The Sage Gateshead
WHY was Hall One at the Sage half empty last night?
That was the question causing me mild irritation as I left singing the praises of Mike Gibbs and his band. Thankfully, the few of us who did make it were invited to move towards the front to create something approaching an intimate atmosphere.
Composer and band leader Gibbs modestly played down his ability as a trombonist but, as he also pointed out, his band is his instrument.
His ear for combinations of sound, and particularly for horn voicings consistently made it clear that Gibbs is reaping the awards of a career spent devoted to composition – years spent crafting the whole as opposed to concentrating on the part.
Not only were the arrangements alive to the powers of a big band in a way I have rarely heard, but the selection of players was just right.
Nothing illustrates the power of the group so well as the role played by on of its members – guitarist Bill Frisell. Having seen Frisell in concert before and left slightly cold, I was amazed by the new significance his understated solos took on within Gibbs’ band.
Whether he was sharpening up the sax lines by playing in unison or offering us a taste of his harmonic inventiveness, he took a strangely pivotal role in a line-up I expected to drown him.
To borrow some wisdom from folk singer Martha Wainwright, great compositions make you feel you have written them yourself – they have something almost inevitable about them.
Gibbs is a master of this and it is a great shame more could not have heard the quite unique sound created by his band.
With four trumpets four trombones, a french horn and three saxes, Gibbs favours a brass-heavy sound extremely hard to do justice to in words.
Adam Nessbaum on drums, Hans Koller on piano and the long-serving Steve Swallow on bass provided much more than solid foundations – with Koller showing signs of a bright future.
Of the soloists, Gerard Presencer on trumpet shone, but it was a night where the collective sound was not to be outdone by any individual.