ANYTHING GOES: It’s been a big couple of years for Gerry Gibbs and his Thrasher Dream Trio, who play at SOhO on Sunday, December 27, at 7:30 p.m. With their recent albums Gerry Gibbs & The Thrasher Dream Trio, We’re Back, and Live in Studio, the group achieved three number-one records on the National Jazz Radio Charts in less than two years — a rare accomplishment in the jazz world. Only two other artists have had three or more number-one consecutive jazz albums since radios started charting jazz albums in 2002. With the Trio’s eponymous album garnering a Grammy nomination, as well, it’s clear Gibbs’s trio is, for jazz listeners, a dream come true.
Gibbs credits his group’s record-making success to a little bit of genre rule-breaking. Not content to merely play the usual jazz standards, Gibbs enlisted the help of his idols Ron Carter and Kenny Barron to give a jazzy life to genres at which traditionalists might upturn their noses, like elevator muzak and R&B chart-toppers. The new albums, Gibbs said, were so lauded because of how accessible they were. Gibbs wanted to make records “just for people, not for musicians” or hip music intelligentsia, and the Trio’s new releases feature interpretations of works by Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Earth, Wind & Fire. “The credit goes to the great tunes. I didn’t feel I had to go jive or commercial — they were brilliant tunes to start with, and even old jazz people loved it,” he said.
What’s more, Gibbs constructed Gerry Gibbs & The Thrasher Dream Trio in terms of harmonic concepts, envisioning the album as a single melodic narrative told through harmonic complements. “I put all the pieces together to be like a story, and not just individual great songs that can stand up on their own,” he said, likening the concept to the way a composer may construct a movie score, with many smaller pieces telling a larger story.
Onstage, however, Gibbs and his Trio — this time featuring Billy Childs on piano and Hamilton Price on bass — never quite know what story they will tell, preferring to play with an anything-can-happen mentality. “We all three love to be in a situation with no rules,” he said. Gibbs expects the upcoming SOhO show is going to be “really loose — it can go in any 10 different musical directions, because we’re all into a lot of different music and our influences are so diverse.”
Being so attuned to so many musical languages allows the trio to switch up styles at a moment’s notice, with each player continually varying their rhythmic and melodic dispatches. “With Billy and Hamilton, I’ll speak every word I know, and whatever happens, happens,” he said. Both in drumming and in life, Gibbs is at ease flowing with unpredictability. “I love to move directions — I love to play in a straight-ahead band and an avant-garde band; with zero rules or with some rules, it’s all fun for me. Stuff is always changing, and you just don’t know where you’re gonna go.”
Whether playing with rigid traditionalists or free-form experimentalists, Gibbs approaches it with equanimity. “Music is an opinion. Whether it’s right or wrong, it’s all just an opinion, and I tell my students to take everything I do as just one guy’s opinion,” he said.
Though he does not privilege one approach over another, Gibbs does caution younger musicians against believing too highly in their own innovation or being ignorant of their musical inheritance. The novelty of YouTube exposure, he said, has supplanted the more enriching endeavor of record-store-music scouring. “When I was a kid, it was really an adventure to have to check stuff out. Now there’s a lack of really listening. What ends up happening is younger people today really believe what they’re creating is new because it’s new to them,” he said.
Whatever language Gibbs and his Trio speak on Sunday, it will be with the fluency and flair respectful to tradition and open to progressive frontiers both. Or something else entirely — whatever happens, happens.