By: Jack Bowers, All About Jazz
Our People, the twelfth album as leader by multi-instrumentalist Gerry Gibbs, is difficult to describe and even harder to pigeonhole. Is it jazz? Not really. Is it world music? Sometimes. And sometimes even other-worldly. Stream of consciousness? Perhaps, but always with a specific plan in mind. Tone poems? Only in the sense that there are times when Gibbs’ helical and esoteric charts may bring poetry to mind. One thing it definitely is not is a big-band album. Despite its capacious sound, Our People actually consists of five musicians playing, collectively, about forty instruments with voices added from time to time to amplify the impact. The session, recorded by the quintet in Gibbs’ apartment / studio in Queens, New York, numbers nineteen “scenes,” all written and arranged by the leader, and which, in his words, channel “all the influences [that] encompass all the . . . ethnicities of people [whom] we have known from all over the world, filtering their different heritages, life experiences, art [and] customs. . . It was these influences that inspired my writing and all the things done on this recording by [the] five of us.”
The result is a medley of neoteric music that may be unfamiliar to the ear but is invariably bright and interesting. Gibbs is no amateur, nor are his bandmates: Alex Collins, Gianluca Renzi, Mayu Saeki and Kyeshie Gibbs, each of whom is an accomplished musician capable of understanding Gibbs’ purpose and transforming it into reality. The album’s handful of solos are taken by Collins who plays, among other instruments, acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes, Hammond B3 organ, vibraphone, soprano and alto saxophones, guitar and accordion. Gibbs handles much of the percussion, Renzi the bass and added percussion, Kyeshie Gibbs the (mostly wordless) vocals. Collins and Renzi are members of Gibbs’ well-known Thrasher Trio, several of whose albums have reached No. 1 on radio’s Jazz Week charts.
While each of Gibbs’ “scenes” is unique and stands on its own musically, a number are dedicated to specific people or entities: Scene 3 (“Music from the Universe”) to drummer Peter Erskine; Scene 7 (“Oh, Yeah!”) to Pharoah Sanders; Scene 8 (“Boys Sent to Die”) to young men all over the world sent to war; Scene 10 to its namesake Chick Corea; Scene 13 (“Flying on the Wings of a Fantasy”) to Wayne Shorter; Scene 15 (“Mike and Lenny”) to Mike Clark and Lenny White. The brief Scene 19 is an off-the-wall electronic composition with vocal by Kyeshie Gibbs. There’s not much else to consider save that Our People is probably unlike any other recording you may encounter this year, now that Sun Ra has found another planet and the avant-garde / world music movement is less visible than it has been. Stars have been awarded not for jazz content but for what Our People is and how well Gibbs’ plan is carried out.
Track Listing: Scenes: The Calm Before the Storm; The Journey Begins; Music from the Universe; Our People; Dance of the Freedom People; The Streets; Oh Yeah!; Boys Sent to Die; Messengers on the Run; Chick Corea; Friends Before We Were Friends, Part 1; Friends Before We Were Friends, Part 2; Flying on the Wings of a Fantasy; Volkswagens, Peace Signs & Dashikis; Mike & Lenny; Thrasher Peoples Blues; Memories of Home; The Final Message; Tune In! We Return You Back to Your Reality.
Personnel: Gerry Gibbs: leader, drums, conga, timpani, miscellaneous percussion, balafon, kalimba, glockenspiel, background bass, marimba, background mini moog, clavinet, harpsichord, background synthesizers, keyboard programming, electronic soundscapes, trumpet, hand claps, background vocals. Alex Collins: piano, Fender Rhodes, Hammond B3 organ, mini moog, clavinet, harpsichord, miscellaneous synthesizers, marimba, vibraphone, soprano sax, alto sax, guitar, accordion, lead and background vocals, miscellaneous percussion, hand claps; Gianluca Renzi: electric, acoustic bass, strings, bass effects, background vocals, miscellaneous percussion, background vocals; Mayu Saeki: piccolo, flute, alto flute, bass flute, wood flute, lead and background vocals, percussion, background keyboards, glockenspiel, hand claps; Kyeshie Gibbs: lead and background vocals, hand claps, miscellaneous percussion.