MIKE GIBBS — Tanglewood 63 (review)

MIKE GIBBS — Tanglewood 63 album cover Album · 1971 · Progressive Big Band Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
Sean Trane
I think this is Gibbs’ second album as a band-leader, and I should specify as a BIG BAND-leader, because looking at the line-up, it features almost everyone on the London-scene of the times, with a few exceptions. Indeed, there are so many players that he doesn’t even bother to play one, just concentrating on composition and chef d’orchestre. Recorded over two days in late 70, it was released n the Decca subsidiary label Deram, usually reserved for more progressive rock releases, but it received a superb and colourful somewhat-psychedelic artwork on its sleeve (check out the portraits inside the flowers). Just to mention a few musicians present: Wheeler, Beckett, Lowther, Pyne, Roberts, Surman, Skidmore, Smith, Marshall, Thacker, Ricotti, Spedding, Babbington, G. Beck and John Taylor… And that’s roughly the half of it, for I haven’t mentioned the string players.

Three short and rather lively tracks make up the A-side, with the opening Tanglewood 63 the better-known (Colosseum and Jack Bruce, I think) with the famous vibes (here courtesy of Ricotti), the big band mood is a happy one, and the following Fanfare is a joyous and jumpy rampage somewhere between rock and jazz and finishes in a dramatic ending. The 7-mins Sojourn is a much quieter affair, starting almost-symphonic (the string section had been pretty discreet until now) and, to be honest, is a real snooze-fest.

The real meat of the album is on the flipside with the two 10-mins+ epics, starting with the haunting and drone-filled Canticle, originally written for the Canterbury cathedral, and it sounds much more like Beethoven’s Pastorale than an Ellington big band piece. It stays a low-key piece for its 13-mins duration where the strings lay the slow and low foundations; and it contrasts heavily with the next piece. Closing the album is the awesome Five For England, with Chris Spedding’s awesome jazz-rock guitar (he’s a bit louder and wilder than in Nucleus or his own solo album to come Song Without Words), but it’s the whole band that’s out for blood, but it’s really Spedding’s moment, doubled by Gordon Back’s Rhodes. It ends rather oddly with the guitar outroing it out all alone.

Well, Tanglewood is a sonically widespread affair, maybe a tad too much for its own sake and cohesion: but it’s definitely worth a listen, because there aren’t many albums that sounds like it, or even aim in that same sonic target. Somewhere between rock, jazz and classical, this “thing” is difficult to pigeonhole, unless breaking it down by tracks.

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