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Melvin Gibbs Isn’t Looking Back

The Harriet Tubman bassist’s career is memoir-worthy, but his gaze is set on what’s to come

Melvin Gibbs (photo: Alan Nahigian)

For the past 21 years, self-described “explorer of rhythm” Melvin Gibbs has—among many other things—held down the massive low end in the collaborative power trio Harriet Tubman. The effects-laden grooves he concocts for that band, paired with the string-bending guitarscapes of Brandon Ross and the polyrhythmic assault of drummer J.T. Lewis, yielded a sprawling masterwork last year. The Terror End of Beauty, a glitch-infused collision of rock, jazz, funk, and blues, rightly found itself on just about every best-of-2018 list.

But that was last year. On this frigid winter day in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, the dreadlocked bassist is perched in front of a computer alongside drummer, producer, and rap upstart Kassa Overall. They’re in the midst of what they’re calling an “idea day” for one of Gibbs’ panoply of boundary-pushing projects that will surely keep him busy throughout 2019. Among those projects: the jazz-fusion Zig Zag Power Trio with Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid and drummer Will Calhoun, a duo with theoretical physicist and saxophonist Stephon Alexander that explores climate change, a long-awaited album from the Bitches Brew-manipulating Melvin Runs the Hoodoo Down(with the late Pete Cosey on guitar), and the return of his African-based spiritual music ensemble, Elevated Entity. On top of that, Tubman is intent on making a new record in 2019. “Striking while the iron is hot is important because it took so long for everyone to, you know … care,” says Gibbs, laughing.

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