Wonders never cease with Marshall Gilkes
. Having previously reached extraordinary heights as a leader on a breakout quartet set, two standout quintet dates, a pair of essential releases with the WDR Big Band
and one stunning trio album, this celebrated trombonist and composer now moves beyond known borders. Directing and fronting a sui generis assemblage merging a top-shelf rhythm combo with a brilliant brass ensemble, he uncovers and explores the conventions of his own cyclic journey. "I wrote the music for this album in March and April of 2022, but I've had this ideato bring these two worlds togetherfor quite some time," Gilkes explains. "And in terms of the theme, it really came to light through reflection on what's most familiar to me. That's how I arrived at the idea to write a soundtrack to my daily external and internal existence."
That soundtrack, taking shape as a nine-movement suite illustrating the beauty and grounding influences Gilkes finds in his family life and day-to-day designs, serves as a bridge, highlighting his rare ability to cross over and operate at the highest levels in both the jazz and classical realms. The personnel that he convened for the projectan incredibly accomplished and unique gatheringmirrors that uncommon flexibility. Pianist Aaron Parks
, bassist Linda May Han Oh
and drummer Johnathan Blake
form a dream team on the rhythm end, bringing exceptional support and depth of presence to the music. And a well-integrated brass octet binds a who's who of classical heavies and some of Gilkes' fellow scene straddlers. That cadre includes trumpeters Brandon Ridenour, of Canadian Brass fame, Ethan Bensdorf, from the New York Philharmonic, and Tony Kadleck
, who leads the pack of lead players in the Big Apple; horn marvel Adam Unsworth
, Professor of Horn at the University of Michigan and a former member of the Philadelphia Orchestra; the legendary Joseph Alessi, longstanding Principal Trombone in the New York Philharmonic; bass trombonist Nick Schwartz, from the New York City Ballet; euphonium ace Demondrae Thurman, Chair of the Brass Department at Indiana University; and tuba titan Marcus Rojas
, who, having held down the low end for everybody from Henry Threadgill
to the Metropolitan Opera, seemingly knows no limits.
Together, that two-pronged team breathes tremendous life into this aural representation of Gilkes' days. Opening on "First Light," these musicians capture the beauty and optimism inherent in the dawn hours. "I usually wake up first in my house, the sunlight gently comes through the windows and things are quiet...before my kids come in and jump on me," Gilkes shares with a chuckle. "So that's really a piece about the gears of life starting to turn at the beginning of each day." Welcoming chorales, a key element throughout the album, bookend the proceedings, leaving space between for Gilkes and the rhythm section to paint with pensive strokes. Once in motion there's the "Up and Down" ritualdropping the kids at school, hitting the gym and putting things in play. As the trombonist notes, "that really focuses on the idea of venturing out into the world." Moving along with a hip and understated groove that grows in strength as time progresses and the brass brethren join in, that second offering acts as a perfect frame for Gilkes' warm and melodious horn. Then comes "The Calm," which looks closely at "the first chance to catch your breath, orient yourself and gather your thoughts to organize the day." A peaceable production that smoothly integrates all of the prime elements in the mixGilkes' inviting lines, a sympathetic brass presence, a sensitive rhythm sectionit also leaves room to admire Oh's rounded bass soloing.
As Gilkes and company continue on, the demands of the day intensify and the need for meditative space grows in parallel. "Go Get It!," opening with fanfare before transitioning into an animated odd-metered showcase for the leader's redoubtable slide work, is all about can-do attitude and action. "Respite," built as a midday break, blends contemplation with contentment. "Beat the Clock," expressing the urgency that comes with trying to get the most out of the minutes that remain, is absolutely vital. And "Genre Battles," pitting a proud-and-prancing brass section against a swinging jazz outfit, acknowledges Gilkes' broad stylistic reach and proves ingenious in its use and twisting of Rhythm changes. Having held membership in or worked with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Slide Monsters, Maria Schneider
Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Brass Band of Battle Creek and numerous other front-rank ensembles in both the jazz and classical orbits, there are few others as qualified to deliver such masterful and humorous commentary.
By the time the penultimate "Musings" appears with its gift of flowing thought, and the title track carries things to a conclusion with warmth, soaring ambitions and a satisfying resolution, the cycle is complete. But all isn't said and done. In one final bow to brass grandeur, Gilkes and his fellow horn men bring down the house with "Sin Filtro." A bonus track boasting some of the leader's signaturesextreme register jumps, strong melodies, sophisticated harmonies, rhythmic intensityit's a Spanish-tinged stunner that spotlights this unbelievable collection of slide and valve virtuosos. As a coda to Cyclic Journey
it also serves an important purpose in further addressing Gilkes' true musical passions. "I'm honestly someone who adores classical brass playing, but also loves jazz. And I feel like with this project it's not just about the combination of two groups or ideas, but the musicians themselves. Linda's sound on the bass is just so incredibly pure. Aaron's touch on the piano, evident, for example, in the way he takes over after that fanfare on 'Go Get It!' is beautiful. The way Johnathan plays and orchestrates everything just elevates the music. And I have the ultimate cast of characters with these brass players. I feel like I'm very lucky that I was able to bring together the perfect group of people."
Liner Notes copyright © 2023 Dan Bilawsky.
Cyclic Journey can be purchased here.
Contact Dan Bilawsky at All About Jazz.
Dan is a jazz journalist, jazz advocate, music educator, and lover of sounds.
Part I: First Light; Part II: Up and Down; Part III: The Calm; Go Get It!; Part V: Respite; Part VI: Beat the Clock; Part VII: Genre Battles; Part VIII: Musings; Part IX: Cyclic Journey; Bonus Track: Sin Filtro.