Music The Creative Jazz Orchestra / Mike Gibbs / Peter Erskine St George's, Bristol

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The Independent Culture
"Tonight we re-orchestrate!" may not have the same ring as "tonight we improvise!" but Mike Gibbs's interpretations of scores by Charles Ives, Mark-Anthony Turnage and Oliver Knussen, together with a few pieces from his own book, overflowed with quite wonderful music. Stemming originally from a 1994 commission by Birmingham Jazz, when Gibbs was asked to provide a jazz evening for a weekend devoted to Knussen and Turnage, and pairing the Zimbabwean composer with Manchester's Creative Jazz Orchestra, this Contemporary Music Network tour date triumphantly married the often strange bedfellows of the jazz and contemporary classical worlds. The scores were performed faithfully, after a fashion, yet the band swung like the clappers, and windows of improvisation were opened often enough to give the soloists something to really shout about.

Taking the orchestrations of Gil Evans - an acknowledged influence on Turnage - as his cue, Gibbs painted the colours of the big band into subtle shades of harmony that, as he told us in an interval talk, followed the line of the originals while seeking to thicken it into new chordal shapes. Ives's "Barndance", complete with shuffle-rhythm and hoedown horns, aptly sanctified the legitimacy of the union, as well as underpinning the oddness of the enterprise, with drummer Peter Erskine furrowing his brow to read patterns that he normally kicks out extempore.

At first there were doubts, with Erskine's drums as loud as the orchestra itself, but after an early Afro number that showcased his polyrhythms to the maximum, the volume softened and techno-fusion departed to leave only an impeccably sensitive response to the difficult but rewarding scores.

Though Knussen was represented by only a minute-long fragment, Turnage received a sustained going-over, even to the point of a football-rattle chorus and a hotel bell-ringer duet, with the dissonance of "Her Anxiety" accompanied by the percussive flavour of a Morricone Western film-score. Gibbs's own pieces were mainly from the Seventies, invoking his curious yet satisfying mix of Scott Walker-like pop bombast with expertly arranged big band jazz. Back in 1969 Gibbs was the great white hope of Anglo-centric fusion, but his music has not been heard enough since then.

Gibbs studied at Tanglewood with the guru of third-stream music Gunther Schuller, as did Knussen and Turnage, but his work avoids the stuffy classicism of that genre in favour of modal experiments in the Gil Evans-Miles Davis vein, spiked with a strong, hot, flavour from his African childhood. Last year he conducted a Pops concert in Johannesburg. The affirmative experience of this tour, and the superb example of the Creative Jazz Orchestra, should lead to more congenial work.