If you want to know about contemporary British jazz or prog, you go to Downtown Music Gallery, where between them Bruce Gallanter and Manny Maris are an encyclopedic repository of knowledge and infallible taste. So when on my most recent trip there, Bruce passed me a sampler called Who Is Phil Gibbs? and told me the titular guitarist would be playing a series of shows in NYC (including his USA debut), I played said disc as soon as I got home, and was immediately intrigued.
In its listing, TONY calls Phil Gibbs "a staunch free-improviser" and goes on to compare him to Derek Bailey, but that's just one facet of his multi-stylistic habits. Drawing from a variety of contexts, with recording dates ranging from 2000 to this year, the CD's eight tracks reveal a far more versatile musician than TONY suggests.
"The Sound of One Who Loves" is just Gibbs, apparently overdubbing some percussion and perhaps didgeridoo or some other drone. It starts out with sort of flamenco-ish acoustic guitar over the drone, then switches to frenzied free improv (still on acoustic guitar) over metallic scrapes. The following track, the Paul Dunmall composition "For Integrity," however, immediately goes in a completely different direction with Gibbs's solo intro unleashing a storm of electric guitar shredding that might make Yngwie Malmsteen jealous, after which he's joined by a saxophone quartet that alternates chordal chorales with less tonal squiggles even as Gibbs, still on a screaming electric played with plenty of whammy bar, oscillates between headbanging riffs and more outside gestures.
"Song and Dance" is played by an all-star quartet with Dunmall (sax), Keith Tippett (piano – a familiar figure on the Brit improv scene, but also known to prog-rockers for his work with King Crimson on "Cat Food (Again)"), and drummer Peter Fairclough. Here the Bailey comparison works amid the free-form collective improvisation. "The Saffron Robe" is a Gibbs-Dunmall duet where it sounds like Gibbs has messed with the sound of his strings ("prepared" guitar?) for a buzzing, rattling effect; "Yearning for Freedom" is a sextet of those two with Paul Rogers (bass), Neil Metcalfe (flute), Tony Hymas (piano), and Tony Levin (drums); again we hear collective improv, but the three Dunmall tracks are different from each other.
"Martian Sunrise" brings another style: pure prog, with Gibbs soloing flashily but tonally over lush synthesizer chords courtesy of Ben Williams. "Tabacaria" is another duet, but with a singer, Mossa Bildner, an imaginative vocalist who sounds like nobody else without journeying especially "outside." In closing, "Our Man in Puerto Rico" pairs Gibbs on electric guitar with electric bassist Antonio Quijano for another shredfest.
So, honestly, I can't guarantee what you'll hear at the six gigs Gibbs has in the next eight days, except that whatever style you hear, it'll include some impressive guitar gymnastics. However, given the company he's keeping, it will likely be mostly at the jazz end of the free-improv spectrum.
- Steve Holtje
Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based composer, poet, and editor. His song cycle setting five of James Joyce's Pomes Penyeach can be heard here.