With British jazz in 2021 in better shape than ever before, record companies are being emboldened to revisit their tape libraries and reissue historic but long deleted albums. At the same time, recently formed specialist labels such as Jazz In Britain are making available club and radio broadcast recordings which have never been released before. The Rhodesian-born, Berklee-schooled orchestral-jazz composer Michael Gibbs, a truly iconic figure who continues to inspire young British musicians, is receiving attention on both fronts.
The most ambitious major label reissue program to be launched so far is Universal/Decca's series British Jazz Explosion: Originals Re-Cut. It will be launched in July 2021 with the double album sampler Journeys In Modern Jazz: Britain (1965-1972) , covering an especially creative time in British music from jazz through rock and pop. Decca will then go on to release at least fourteen classic albums, digitally and on 180-gram vinyl, including Gibbs' debut, Michael Gibbs (Deram) aka Some Echoes, Some Shadows, which lit up the British scene on release in 1970.
Meanwhile, Jazz In Britain has released these previously unavailable BBC Radio recordings from May and November 1970, of material which, a few months later, Gibbs and his orchestra would record as Tanglewood 63 (Deram, 1971). Like the earlier album, this endures as a bona fide five-star masterpiece. The title takes its name from a two-month summer school at Tanglewood, the home of the Boston Pops, at which Gibbs in 1963 was one of a dozen young composers who studied with Aaron Copland, Gunther Schuller, Lukas Foss and Iannis Xenakis, spending two weeks with each. The experience made a huge impact on Gibbs (though at the time, he was a little dismissive of Copland, something he now attributes to "youthful bravado").
Revisiting Tanglewood 63: The Early Tapes is just glorioussome may even rate it higher than the 1971 album for the immediacy which the live-in-the-studio situation brings with it. With his two Deram albums, and these radio broadcasts, Gibbs rewrote the rule book for orchestral jazz, taking in everything from immense soundscapes that rival Igor Stravinsky in vigour and scale through small group breakouts, in a blue-water thinking style which embraces the American big band tradition, contemporary classics, jazz rock and even occasional flashes of Southern African township jazz. The orchestra is peopled by contemporary giants of British jazz (check the Personnel credits below) and, though the emphasis is on through-composed ensemble work, there are superlative solos. A real treasure, unearthed.
Tanglewood 63; Five For England; Fanfare; June The 15th 1967; Sojourn; Canticle; Country
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In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.