Michael Gibbs / Vortex
Small space, big band. Can’t beat it. Five trumpets, four trombones, four reeds, five rhythm, making the air move within the confines of a proper jazz club. Even the smallest concert hall wouldn’t be the same. And sitting just behind me at the Vortex last night was Mike Gibbs, smiling and cheering as the Trinity Laban Jazz Orchestra, conducted by Josephine Davies, performed a selection of his compositions and arrangements in one of four sets arranged over two nights as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival, in celebration of his recent 85th birthday.
The finest tribute to the great man was the spirit shown by the young musicians of the orchestra, buttressed by a few distinguished elders, including Julian Siegel and Tom Challenger on saxophones, Lewis Wright on vibes, Hans Koller on piano and Gene Calderazzo on drums. Challenger’s alto soared unstoppably on a heart-lifting “Almost Ev’ry Day”, Wright proved yet again on “Ramblin'” that he doesn’t know how to play an uninteresting phrase, Siegel took firm control of “Round Midnight”, and Calderazzo kept the music on its toes. But the newer faces also had points to make: Kobe Heath Ngugi’s bass matched the drummer’s power and agility, Talfan Jenkins delivered a poised alto solo on Gibbs’ fascinating arrangement of Eberhard Weber’s “Mauritius”, Alex Polack’s trumpet cut through on the closing sequence of “Round Midnight”, and the guitar comping of Joseph Leighton behind Koller and Wright on “Ramblin'” was stimulating enough to remind me of Ray Crawford’s contribution to Gil Evans’s “La Nevada”, than which there can be no higher praise. These are all student at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire, and all names to watch.
Gibbs has worked with many musicians and orchestras in his long career — Kenny Wheeler, Gary Burton, Joni Mitchell, John McLaughlin, John Scofield and so on — but not much can have been more fun than this. At the end of the set, he was presented with a birthday cake while the band stood to play “Happy Birthday”. The fizzing candle was only one of the night’s fireworks.
* If you hurry, there are two more sets tonight: https://www.vortexjazz.co.uk/events/?s=Mike+Gibbs