Michael Gibbs: Tanglewood 63 (1971) Deram

Selection: Tanglewood 63 (Gibbs)

.  .  .

Selection: Sojourn (Gibbs)

.  .  .

Track List

A1  Tanglewood 63
A2  Fanfare
A3  Sojourn
B1  Canticle
B2  Five For England


Musical Director – Michael Gibbs as composer/arranger

Jeff Clyne, acoustic bass;  Alan Ford, Fred Alexander, cello; Clive Thacker, John Marshall, drums, percussion; Chris Spedding, guitar; Gordon Beck, John Taylor, Mick Pyne, keyboards; Alan Skidmore, Brian Smith, John Surman, Stan Sulzmann, Tony Roberts, saxophone, woodwind; Chris Pyne, David Horler, Malcolm Griffiths, trombone; Harry Beckett, Henry Lowther, Kenny Wheeler, Nigel Carter, trumpet, flugelhorn; Alfie Reece, Dick Hart, tuba; Frank Ricotti, vibraphone, percussion; George French, Hugh Bean, Geoff Wakefield, Michael Rennie, Raymond Moseley, Tony Gilbert, Bill Armon, violin.

Recorded at Morgan Studios November 10 & 12, December 2 & 23, 1970, engineers, Mike Bobak, Roger Quested; remix engineer, Terry Evennett;  design, artwork cover,  Diz Dewhirst; Photography back cover, Jake;  Producer, Peter Eden.

Pocket Bio: Mike Gibbs is primarily a composer and arranger, perhaps not widely known in the transatlantic jazz fraternity. Born in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), he studied at Berklee College of Music, Lenox School of Jazz/ Tanglewood in the USA, and then settled in London in the mid-1960s, playing trombone in the engine rooms of British Jazz: Johnny Dankworth Band, the Graham Collier Septet, and Mike Westbrook Orchestra.

In the late 1960s he assembled a jazz orchestra of London’s finest and recorded two albums for the Decca  Deram label: the first in 1970 simply titled Michael Gibbs, the second in 1971 titled Tanglewood 63.  His work consisted of composing and arranging for other performers; he had a lengthy collaboration with vibist Gary Burton, recordings thereafter only intermittently – such as The Only Chrome Waterfall (1975), then taking up a teaching post at Berklee College of Music where he once studied, full circle.

In the ’80s Gibbs worked as a freelance arranger and producer, with Pat Metheney and John McLaughlin among others. He subsequently returned to teaching in Helsinki, Finland, not unlike John Surman’s move to Norway, attracted to ..umm.. The Northern Lights? Numerous awards and recognition of achievements followed, including an honorary Doctorate at Berklee.

Gibbs is still with us, at 84 years; his music will endure long after.


Seventies in transition, is it fusion, jazz-rock, progressive big band, orchestral jazz? A difficult album to pigeonhole. 

Let’s see what jazz critics make of Gibbs:

Cuneiform Records say

“Inspired by Gil Evans, Gibbs has honed a subtle and highly personal approach to arranging that often avoids layering sections. Favouring sinuous lines and lapidary textures (LJC: lapidary=polished stones), his pieces often draw a listener in with a shapely melodic phrase before revealing unexpected implications with a rhythmic motif or counter melody” 

All Music say

“Michael Gibbs” and “Tanglewood ’63” were a seminal turning point in the history of U.K. jazz-rock: avant-garde-inspired brass passages, electrifying guitar solos, and thunderous yet funky rhythms. Music entirely of its time but distinctly out of time as well.

Tanglewood ’63 is vividly majestic music of remarkable scope and energy. Gibbs’ ingenious arrangements suggest a pop-art incarnation of a traditional big band. It most impressive for the tactile sumptuousness of Gibbs’ sound – the music boasts as many tints and textures as a Pantone Color Guide”

Chris May, All About Jazz, says

“Like the earlier Michael Gibbs album, Tanglewood 63  endures as a bona fide five-star masterpiece. Gibbs rewrote the rule book for orchestral jazz, taking in everything from immense soundscapes that rival Igor Stravinsky in vigour and scale through small group breakouts, in a style which embraces the American big band tradition, contemporary classics, jazz rock and even occasional flashes of Southern African township jazz. The orchestra is peopled by contemporary giants of British jazz  and, though the emphasis is on through-composed ensemble work, there are superlative solos. A real treasure, unearthed.”
LJC says: 
Gibbs is an excellent composer, whose melodies invade your waking hours days later. The compositions are vignettes, the musicians are speaking parts in a play, all those illustrious names are mostly lost in the ensemble, occasionally venture out for a welcome solo, but the play is the thing.
The feisty rollicking title-track Tanglewood 63  is an immediately recognisable piece, its opening trombone call and answer with a brassy piquant “township jazz” flavour, and a coat of many colours. Notable covers of the tune are found by collaborator Gary Burton, and Jon Heisman’s Colosseum.
Fanfare is just that, a grande prelude, a beginning with no middle or end, strangely truncated. It leads to my favourite piece Sojourn (“a temporary stay”). Based on a simple bass eight note descending scale which resolves, and repeats. Repetition intensifies tension, a foil for the ensemble counterpoint to emerge slowly, through contrasting classical cello (Alexander), soprano (Surman)  and tenor (Skidmore). From time to time the bass and the ensemble swap places. The ensemble shimmers, changing shape as instruments fade in and out. Sojourn: a temporary escape, floating, inspired.
Canticle (“hymn or chant of biblical context”) is an atmospheric concert piece commissioned by Canterbury Cathedral, written with cathedral acoustic space in mind. Rated by many as the  pick of the album, I’m giving myself  more time to absorb it.
Five For England is a lengthy vehicle for the guitar of Chris Spedding. Incorporating rock guitar into orchestral jazz in 1970 was innovative, but the instrument has a limited vocabulary, and with fifty years of rock guitar hindsight, overly long, but maybe it will grow on me. 
Pigeonholes can be a helpful signpost as to what sort of music is in the box.  Initially, I thought “Jazz Rock”.  Repeated listening confirms it is much more complex, an idiosyncratic mixture of many styles.. If it can be pidgeonholed at all, it belongs in the pidgeonhole for music that is, frankly, difficult to pidgeonhole.  

Vinyl: Deram SML 1087

Laminated with “Clarifoil” made by British Celanese Limited

Harry’s Place

Chris Spedding, guitar,  playing with Nucleus in 1970 at Montreux and Alan Skidmore, tenor,  at Jazz Expo in 1969 with his quintet including Kenny Wheeler

John Marshall, drums,  Jeff Clyne, bass, as part of Ian Carr’s Nucleus in 1970.

Photo Credits: Harry M


Collector’s Corner: Vinyl New Reissues/ On The Horizon

Jazz in Britain, a small label who specialise in archive and broadcast sources,  have released RevisitingTanglewood 63, the Early Tapes, BBC broadcasts in the lead up to the recording of the Tanglewood 63 album, which Gibbs had kept on tape

There are seven tracks as compared to the five on my commercial 1971 release, and inevitably many similarities, tracks can be heard as samples on the Jazz in Britain site. Limited edition on vinyl to only 500 copies. Described as “live – in studio” I cannot vouch for audio quality. In my experience, recordings made for BBC radio broadcast are often not of the same audio standard as studio masters, nor are 1970 tapes for home personal play. 

Following on from their double sampler Modern Jazz: Britain,  I understand Decca will be releasing  Gibbs’ debut Deram album Michael Gibbs, as one of fourteen titles expected in their British Jazz Explosion series


If the early Decca releases in this series are anything to go by, solid audiophile engineering, mastered from the original tapes, sources declared,  there are some treats ahead. 


UMG/Decca have flagged for pre-order  Blue Note Horace Silver Six Pieces of Silver for release 19 Nov.21. Pity I already have three vintage copies. Another not for me. 

Hot on the heels of the 12 LP Lee Morgan Lighthouse Sessions, this also caught my eye:

Impulse 60: Music Message & The Moment

A  four LP box set compilation with a booklet and an Impulse logo slipmat. 

Impulse recordings selected to highlight “musical conversations about civil rights, spirituality, transcendentalism, and Afrofuturism”. Not for the music?

Side 1
1. The John Coltrane Quartet – “Africa” (16:11)
Side 2
1. Max Roach – “Garvey’s Ghost” (7:54)
2. Quincy Jones & His Orchestra – “Hard Sock Dance” (3:13)
3. John Coltrane – “Up ‘Gainst The Wall” (3:15)
4. Elvin Jones & Jimmy Garrison Sextet – “Just Us Blues” (5:57)
Side 3
1. John Coltrane – “Alabama” (5:08)
2. Charles Mingus – “Better Get Hit In Yo’ Soul” (6:28)
3. Shirley Scott Trio – “Freedom Dance” (4:53)
4. Yusef Lateef – “Sister Mamie” (5:20)
Side 4
1. Archie Shepp – “Malcolm, Malcolm, Semper Malcolm” (4:51)
2. Stanley Turrentine – “Good Lookin’ Out” (5:23)
3. Earl Hines – “Black & Tan Fantasy” (5:14)
4. Oliver Nelson – “The Rights Of All” (3:59)
Side 5
1. Pharoah Sanders – “The Creator Has A Master Plan” (edit) (9:06)
2. John Coltrane & Alice Coltrane – “Reverend King” (11:04)
Side 6
1. The Ahmad Jamal Trio – “The Awakening” (6:12)
2. Albert Ayler – “Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe” (8:38)
3. Charlie Haden – “We Shall Overcome” (1:22)
Side 7
1. Alice Coltrane – “Blue Nile” (7:01)
2. Pharoah Sanders – “Astral Traveling” (5:48)
3. Archie Shepp – “Blues For Brother George Jackson” (3:55)
4. Michael White – “Lament (Mankind)” (2:24)
Side 8
1. Dewey Redman – “Imani” (7:09)
2. Marion Brown – “Bismillahi ‘Rrahmani ‘Rrahim” (5:56)
3. John Handy – “Hard Work” (6:57)

It’s the dilemma of the compilation again. I have half the material already on original vinyl, and the other half I find musically less interesting, so not an attractive proposition. No mention of sources: 25 tracks, from original tapes, or digital files, the CD edition on vinyl?  What they don’t say, they are likely hiding, perhaps it’s in the small print. (Update – Impulse belongs to Universal, not Concord, my error). 

The slipmat is a neat idea, but it’s not sufficient reason to rob the bank. Perhaps they will get around to reissuing much-desired Impulse LPs, from original tapes which they own (or have lost). I’ve got a long list.

It’s a pity record distributors (like Amazon, and Juno) don’t seem to have a clue about sources and their importance. So many hyped reissues are just VINO, vinyl in name only, digital file or CD on vinyl. 

Any thoughts, floor is yours.









6 thoughts on “Michael Gibbs: Tanglewood 63 (1971) Deram

  1. That’s a nice copy of TANGLEWOOD 63. So far, I only have the Jazz in Britain issue you mention, Revisiting Tanglewood 63: The Early Tapes. As regards audio quality, Jazz in Britain notes only that it was recorded “live in-studio”. I approached it with slight caution because I thought — as you put it — that “recordings made for BBC radio broadcast are often not of the same audio standard as studio masters” But I have to say, if there is any lowering in sound quality it is very marginal indeed. I was really very pleasantly surprised. The calibre of the live performances is also superb. Indeed, some reviewers have said they prefer these versions to the issued LP.

    Jazz in Britain is still showing the limited 500 pressing as being available. I think the least we can do is help ensure it sells out…

    Unexpectedly, however, two weeks ago I did find a stereo original of his first s/t LP, which again is marvellous and as hard to label as Tanglewood. Jazz-rock tinged big band music? Progressive orchestral jazz? I think your “idiosyncratic mixture of many styles” is closer to the mark. The added bonus is Chris Spedding’s furious playing throughout.

    I love Spedding’s guitar sound and nothing plunges me back as swiftly into the late-60s and early-70s. MICHAEL GIBBS cost me £30, which I think a very fair price indeed for a NM record that is over fifty years old.

    And on Tangelwood, what a thing of beauty CANTICLE is…


  2. There may be more than the allure of Revontulet (Finnish for Northern Lights) involved, Gibbs had a few former Finnish alumni from Berklee such as Eeero Koistonen and Juhani Aaoaltonen (who played on a Graham Collier birthday celebration record a few years back). Finnish jazz is well worth having a listen too.


  3. having started my british jazz education in cambridge in 1960 with dave gelly, art themen and dick heckstall-smith and others with an early introduction to the old place in soho it was lovely to see the reissues coming from decca. i was fortunate to attend a live concert at queen elizabeth hall of mike gibbs and his orchestra in early seventies in the (somewhat separated) august company of dave gelly in his role as observer reviewer. am glad gibbs is still hale and hearty. music keeps you young (if it doesn’t wear you out)


  4. Always thought “Five for England” was the weak link on a strong album, Spedding running through his various rock cliches remembered from countless dates as a session man


  5. Impulse would be Universal Music Group, not Concord. Sources are always an interesting question with Impulse. From original parent company ABC’s early 70s vault purge to the more recent Universal Music vault fire, any surviving original masters should consider themselves very lucky. A release like this, I’d assume is taken from digital at least partially, but this release isn’t for me anyway.
    I appreciate the attention on British jazz. Being a yank, this is all new to me.

    LJC: whoops, you are quite right it is Prestige that is owned by Concorde/Craft, thanks for the correction.


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