(Fuzzy Moon FUZ005. CD Review by Chris Parker)
Given suitably responsive musicians (here the NDR Big Band) and a versatile singer (Norma Winstone), there are few composer/arrangers as reliably inventive in the field of song-setting as Mike Gibbs.
He was first paired with Winstone by Colin Towns for the latter's Provocateur label, and on this album's sleeve Gibbs describes the UK vocalist as 'extraordinarily extraordinary – who else so effortlessly delights, as if magic were a common ingredient', so it is no surprise to find that this album – a judiciously selected mix of standards and material by contemporary singer/songwriters, plus a Gibbs original, 'Some Shadows', including a transcription of a Kenny Wheeler solo – simply exudes class and elegance.
It begins, appropriately enough (Gibbs having collaborated with the great Canadian songwriter on her double album Don Juan's Reckless Daughter), with one of the most affecting versions of a Joni Mitchell song ever recorded. Winstone brings all her easy grace and touching sincerity to 'Blue', one of Mitchell's most introspective songs, but it is the subtle delicacy of Gibbs's arrangement, gently embellished by pianist Vladislav Sendecki, that immediately arrests the ear. Gibbs then ups the tempo for one of Cole Porter's most heart-on-sleeve proclamations of undying devotion, 'So in Love', and subsequently moves easily between Ellington material (a rousing 'Caravan', an absorbing visit to 'Daydream'), standards and more contemporary songs (Tom Waits's thought-provoking 'Soldier's Things', Nick Drake's 'Riverman', Randy Newman's 'I Think It's Going to Rain Today'), all featuring his characteristic layered, delectable harmonies and impeccably performed by a whip-smart, robust but sensitive band, its powerful rhythm section British (bassist Dave Whitford, drummer Mark Mondesir), its stellar soloists including trumpeter Reiner Winterschladen and tenorman Christof Lauer.
Gibbs praises executive producer Issie Barratt for 'tackling the formidable task of translating my jumbled ideas into the reality of a CD', but don't be fooled by his customary modesty: this is a carefully thought out programme by a master craftsman.
Fuzzy Moon Records