JJ 12/83: Mike Gibbs Orchestra at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London

Forty years ago Mark Gilbert understood the audience member who asked the venerated bandleader 'When are you going to play some jazz, man?' First published in Jazz Journal December 1983

Mike Gibbs, London 1971. Photo © Brian O'Connor

An interesting pre-concert discussion between composer Gibbs and critic Charles Fox, an excellent turnout and a promising lineup created a sense of happy anticipation in this observer. This was the first concert of the first jazz-oriented tour in the current season of Contemporary Music Network presentations.

However, as is so often the case, optimism was greeted with disillusionment. Broadly speaking, the first half of this concert was extraordinarily dull. I cannot vouch for the second set, since I sought refreshment outside the absurdly inadequate theatre bar, but returning at the end of the performance I met a disgruntled colleague who resented having paid good money to watch a public rehearsal.

Other remarks that met these ears were, universally, either lukewarm or openly disparaging. I suspect that more than cared to admit it agreed with the gentleman who enquired loudly during the first set: ‘When are you going to play some jazz, man?’ To this question Gibbs offered no reply; the offender was duly suppressed and ushered from the auditorium and the polite illusion of artistic endeavour was restored. So much for communication between artist and audience!

Of the music, not much needs be said. Any detailed description would owe much to fiction, so little incident was there in most of these compositions. The arty Ballad and African with which the concert began were in danger of refining themselves out of existence, the latter appearing to get caught in a kwela/hi-life groove for an age before the six-man hern section repeated the unbelievably commonplace riff.

Ironically, it was the non-Gibbs pieces which showed most promise. Guitarist Kevin Eubanks wrote and improvised on Farm In The Heart and also took a solo on Swallow Hard, a composition by bassist Steve Swallow. However, these were no more than hopeful oases; the orchestra was soon struggling again in a vain attempt to command attention.

If Gibbs gets the record deal he hopes for, Radio Two airplay should be assured.