MIKE GIBBS — Directs The Only Chrome-Waterfall Orchestra (review)

MIKE GIBBS — Directs The Only Chrome-Waterfall Orchestra album cover Album · 1975 · Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
Sean Trane
Composer-conductor-director Mike Gibbs is back with another ambitious project that mixes horns and strings, but this time the cast is more international and behind the usual UK-scene stalwarts (the usual Pyne, Wheeler, Skidmore, Coe, Sulzmann and Lowther), we also find US-ian Charlie Mariano and Bob Moses, Belgian Phillip Catherine and Jumma Santos among others. The big change is that Gibbs composed just over half the tracks, as he only wrote the opening track on the A-side, but wrote them all on the flipside. Actually the “basic band is a sextet featuring the two foreign musicians and Swallow on bass, Moses on drums, and Gibbs himself on keyboards.

The general spirit of TOCWO is one of a gentle fusion, with strong but episodic horns and some softening string sections passages. After the synth-lead (care of Gibbs himself) Lady Moss track, Phillip Catherine engages is some delicate guitar arpeggios underlined by some soothing strings and a wandering bass line, and we’re fairly close a soft-prog rock realm. Up next, Blackgang is a heavy contrast with its ultra-funky bass line and Catherine’s guitar following it, but the real icing on the cake are the low-brass section adding some real depth, while the high-brass section is soaring gently above. Excellent stuff!! It’s a little sad that the following slow and wheezy Antique track drags on tiredly with Coe’s sleepy sax, but it’s the shortest track of the album.

Over the flipside, the much more dynamic and energetic Undergrowth seems to settle into a groove, but once it’s well established, the band breaks to allow Walker’s electric cello do an Indian-sounding raga where Catherine’s acoustic guitar joins in, but once again established, the mood changes to a percussive and synthesized pattern. The horny Tunnel Of Love opens slowly with Pyne’s trombone, but the heavy string arrangements puts a damper on it, no matter what Mariano’s on sax. The closing Unfinished Sympathy gets started on a wild funky groove with big-band type horn arrangements, shortly breaking away and returning to the even-more-involved groove. Intense and dramatic, Catherine’s guitar shines brightly on the left channel. Definitely the album’s highlight with Blackgang.

Well if you like something a bit out of the ordinary, Gibbs’ albums are often just that, but it’s always difficult to tell ahead of time whether you’re going to appreciate it. I’d tend to say that with the present TOWCO, trad jazzheads should approach cautiously, while it won’t be a shoo-in for fusionheads either, because the strings gives it a slight new-age slant that might not be all that welcome for many, but the highlights might just be worthy of the space on you shelves. Investigate before investing.

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