MIKE GIBBS — Just Ahead (review)

MIKE GIBBS — Just Ahead album cover Live album · 1972 · Progressive Big Band Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
Sean Trane
After the ambitious orchestral Tanglewood 63 album, Gibbs had participated to a few projects with other songwriters like Ian Carr or Graham Collier, but his band remained active, and this Just Ahead album is the logical continuation of his solo/leader career. Recorded live over one week, during a Ronnie Scott club residency in the spring of 71, Just ahead is a double disc affair that features the usual London scene suspects and a few other stalwarts, including Lowther, Beckett, Wheeler, Skidmore, Griffiths, Pyne and Warleigh on winds, and McRae or Taylor on piano, Chris Spedding on guitar, and Ricotti, Marshall and Babbington in the rhythm section. Yes, you’ve also noticed that most of these guys (including Gibbs himself) were Nucleus partakers, whether leaving or arriving as the first line-up was breaking down. Only Jenkins and Carr seem to be missing. Apparently on some nights, judging by the crowd applause, there were more musicians on stage than audience members. Throughout the sets, you can see that Gibbs is still fairly influenced by his Berklee School, and that the covers from Jarrett, Bley, Swallow, and Burton are still a significant part of his persona.

Opening on Keith Jarrett Grow Your Own piece, Chris Spedding sends us into the stratosphere with his rather loud and rocky lengthy guitar solo and drives the piece at 100 MPH, the band rather forced to follow suit. The much more reflective Three is giving an entirely different facet of the 15-man line-up. As its name hints, Country Roads still carries a few C&W reminiscence (Spedding’s twang-y slide guitar, for ex), but the blues is right next door and pushes its welcome a bit too long, even if McRae’s Rhodes solo is rather interesting on a blues piece. The slow and sinister Carla Bley track of Mother Of The Dead s up-next, but thankfully the following Just A Head (the album’s name is a pun on that track) restores some of the momentum lost, with Skidmore’s over–the-top sax solo and the rapid-fire bass line of Babbington. Not the easiest of tracks, but in some ways, it is the most interesting of the first disc, especially in the closing movement and the pompous Fanfare finale.

The second disc features only three tracks, opening on the Nowhere with a slow percussive (Marshall and Ricotti) intro, where the horns slowly force their way into the grand scheme, but Marshall won’t let them as he clutches-in the turbo and drums away most of the rest of the track. The second and lengthy (13-mins) bluesy track Sing Me Softly (a Paul & Carla Bley song) is a much slower affair, but it allows some breathing and relaxation space, thus paving the way for the much more difficult fusion-y and later-dissonant So Long Gone (over 20-mins), and things go completely improvised between McRae (as he would do in Matching Mole) and Marshall.

Long unavailable, the BGO label has reissued it as a double CD affair, with a luxurious sleeve case, and for once, they did keep the original artwork (but still didn’t include the track timings), although one could’ve wished for more pictures from that week’s residency. In either case, Just Ahead is another fine Gibbs project, even if the album sees too much a wide-spectrum, musically-speaking. Definitely not essential, but JA is still a nice collection consolidating piece.

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