Gerry Gibbs Plays Some of Dad’s Songs

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T. GIBBS: Kick Those Feet.1,6 Smoke ‘Em Up.3,5 Bopstacle Course.2,7 Nutty Notes.4,8 Take it From Me.1,6 Sweet Young Song of Love.2,7 The Fat Man.4,8 Lonely Days.3,8 Hey Chick.1-9 Townhouse 3.3,5 Four A.M.4,8 Waltz for My Children.2,7 Hippie Twist.3,5 Lonely Dreams.1,6 For Keeps.4.8 Gibberish. RANDAZZO-WEINSTEIN: Pretty Blue Eyes.3,5 COREA: Tango for Terry.2,7 T. GIBBS-S. ROGERS: T and S1,6 / Gerry Gibbs, dm/perc; 1Kenny Barron, 2Chick Corea, 3Patrice Rushen, 4Geoffrey Keezer, pno; 5Larry Goldings, Hammond B3 org; 6Buster Williams, 7Ron Carter, 8Christian McBride, bs; 9Terry Gibbs, vib / Whaling City Sound WCS-131

Without a back cover image or booklet (which, alas, were not provided to me for this download), I wasn’t sure at first what the genesis of this album was or the year these tracks were recorded, but I found this online:

Gibbs remarks “What I wanted to do seemed almost impossible with COVID, fear, traveling, safety precautions as well as logistics. How do you coordinate four trios when a disease was spreading all over America?” In the throes of a global pandemic, Gibbs found himself on a several-month nationwide journey to capture recordings of himself alongside a long list of his friends and collaborators – the finest improvisers of our time.

So these are recordings from 2020, which would make some of them among the last recordings that Chick Corea left us. That in itself is noteworthy, but more so is that Gerry’s 96-year-old father, master vibes player Terry Gibbs, actually makes an appearance on one track. God love him! Between him and 95-year-old (this year) Leontyne Price, ain’t no stinkin’ Covid getting to them!

As you can see from the header above, Gerry (who will be 57 this year) amassed almost a who’s who of living jazz greats for this album. In addition to Chick, the pianists include other favorites of mine, primarily the great Kenny Barron, the woefully underrated Patrice Rushen and Geoffrey Keezer, bassists Ron Carter, Christian McBride and Buster Williams, and Larry Golding on his Hammond B3 organ. There’s nothing particularly fancy about most of this music despite the fact that most of these tunes are composed to some degree—all by Terry Gibbs except for two, Pretty Blue Eyes and Chick Corea’s Tango for Terry, plus one collaboration (T and S) between Gibbs Sr. and Shorty Rogers. It’s pretty much straightahead jazz-blue funk music, set in regular tonal keys and without much in the way of thematic variance, but with these lineups, who cares? Listen particularly to Patrice Rushen cook on Smoke ‘Em Up (her solo followed by a pretty good one, but not quite in the same league, by Golding) for an example of what I mean.

But of course, “nothing fancy” doesn’t mean the kind of soporific, brain-dead, drippy music that all too often passes for “jazz” nowadays. Terry Gibbs was a product of the Swing Era—in fact, he was the guy who replaced Red Norvo (who had replaced Lionel Hampton) in the Benny Goodman Sextet—and he only went on to bigger and better things over the following decades. Just as swing was happy, life-affirming music during the Great Depression and a World War, so too can it lift one’s spirits in the midst of a stupid little virus that only hits about 3% of the population and kills less than 2% of those. So put this record on, crank up the volume and enjoy.

Perhaps the most difficult and complex piece on the album is Nutty Notes, a moto perpetuo taken at an absolutely manic pace, played to perfection by Geoffrey Keezer. Holy crap, what a tour-de-force! I was actually a little surprised that bassist McBride could keep up with him at this tempo. Art Tatum, move over! We’ve finally found someone who has caught up to you! By contrast to Nutty Notes, Take it From Me is played at what used to be called a “walking tempo,” medium fast and relaxed, by Barron and Williams. In fact, when listening to the whole album, it struck me that Gerry Gibbs very generously allowed his star soloists to take center stage on each track, always with good results. As a drummer, he plays in a light, airy style, breaking up the beat even as he propels his pianists and bassists, sort of a cross between Dave Tough and Joe Morello. And leave it to Chick Corea to infuse a little touch of Latin music to his performance of Sweet Young Song of Love, which also has a rhythmically complex middle section (and, later on, a tertiary theme in an even slower tempo during which Ron Carter plays a nice, note-bending bass solo).

Not to be outdone by Corea, Keezer also throws some Latin rhythm into the opening strain of The Fat Man, switching to a straight 4 for the middle section—and, surprise of surprises, featuring a bowed bass solo by McBride! I haven’t heard a bowed bass solo in eons, it seems. Lonely Days is a soft ballad, but provides a nice contrast to all the uptempo numbers which precede and follow it. I particularly liked Hey Chick, in which Barron plays an absolutely mind-boggling passage in which his two hands flow across the keyboard, crossing and uncrossing each other at double tempo. Wowza! Nonagenarian Terry Gibbs, and all the gang, play on this track.

CD 2 opens with the fast-and-funky Townhouse 3, which has Rushen showing off her bop chops, followed by a quasi-comical solo by Golding playing squeaked little notes in the organ’s high range before embarking on a more conventional (but excellent) solo. T and S is an uptempo romp by Barron and Williams. Yet so much of this album kicks butt that it’s hard to keep singling out individual tracks for praise; although it’s shorter, being only 2 CDs, this set is as much a mood-lifter as the multi-disc set of Lionel Hampton’s small band recordings made for Victor in 1937-41.

What a great shot in the arm (pun intended) this is in our Covid-weary times. Well worth having, and playing often!

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz


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