Vibraphonist Terry Gibbs is a second-generation bebopper. Too young to have participated in the ground-breaking experiments at Minton's and Monroe's, he first came to prominence with Woody Herman at the end of the 1940's. But bebop is in his blood; it's his life. 52nd & Broadway
, with its vintage bop tunes and their treatment by a string orchestra, celebrates that life.
Gibbs is 80, and he defies his age. His playing here is fluid and lithe, pulsating with his trademark excitement. On the ballads, he adds sensitivity and depth, particularly on "Lover Man." 52nd & Broadway is further enhanced by other veterans: flutist Sam Most and saxophonist/living legend James Moody. Most shines in his appearances. As with Gibbs, age has added maturity and wisdom to his improvising. Moody, as usual, stands tall. He's kept growing over the years, adding harmonic knowledge to his extensive musical arsenal and playing better than ever. Hear his fearless, up-tempo wailing on "Cherokee" or his relaxed swing on "Groovin' High"that's artistry at work.
And give credit to the much younger Nicholas Payton. He's not a bebopper; his conception can run to the considerably more abstract, as he has demonstrated with Greg Osby. But Payton plays the bebop idiom with aplomb, navigating changes with an infusion of post bop thinking, and swinging with both fire and elegance. And as always, there's that Payton sound, easily recognizable with its New Orleans vibrato and its sheer size, as if trumpet sound alone could move mountains. Payton's impressive performance here is yet another reason to recommend this CD.
As for the strings, they work. The arrangements, by the likes of Med Flory and the underappreciated Phil Kelly, are subtle, unobtrusize, and supportive of the music. The orchestra avoids the overly sweet pitfalls that are often a risk in jazz-meets-strings dates. The orchestra plays big band parts, and on "Night In Tunisia" they essay a transcription of Charlie Parker's immortal alto break.
There's much talk these days of what jazz is and what jazz should be, of tradition and innovation, of ideology and self-expression. Bebop is no longer new, but it can still sound fresh. Gibbs and company avoid the risk of playing bop and sounding stale by playing themselves. For Gibbs, Moody, and Most, this music is their deepest self-expression. For Payton and the capable rhythm section, the music filters through more modern sensibilities. And the strings are successful in making this music sound fresh. Kudos to Gibbs and company for making 52nd & Broadway a lot more than revivalism or nostalgia.