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Marshall Gilkes & The WDR Big Band: Köln

Dan Bilawsky By

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In jazz journalism, it's de rigueur for writers to trace the evolution of an artist when covering their work. But encountering the likes of Marshall Gilkes makes that difficult: The Juilliard-trained trombonist seemed to arrive on the New York scene as a fully-formed entity, projecting a warm and full-bodied tone quality and possessing astounding lip flexibility. No surprise then that he became a pivotal figure on the scene, working with everybody from composer-arranger-bandleader Maria Schneider to Colombian harp phenom Edmar Castaneda.

After carving out his place in The Big Apple, Gilkes relocated to Germany, joining the WDR Big Band for what would turn out to be a four year stretch. In December of 2013, he played his last concert as an official member of that organization, but that wasn't the end of it. He was invited back a month later for a farewell performance that featured the music presented on Köln.

All of the hallmarks of Gilkes' previous work are on full display here, so the new story surrounds his big band writing. Given the breadth of his talent(s) and his experiences with this organization, The Maria Schneider Orchestra, and other standout large ensembles, it should come as no shock to discover that Gilkes' big band writing skills and instincts are strong. But that still doesn't prepare the ears for what's coming. Gilkes starts things off with his arrangement of "My Shining Hour," twisting and toying with the theme throughout. His speed and dexterity impress here, drummer Hans Dekker makes his mark as the band makes all the hits around him, and the trombone section adds to the magic by adding some slow glissandos at one point.

The remaining nine tracks are all originals, with Gilkes presenting new(er) numbers and expanded takes on works that appeared on his earlier albums. The former category includes "Vespers," featuring some haunting piano work from Frank Chastenier, "4711 Special," an uplifting number that puts trombonist Ludwig Nuss and alto saxophonist Johan Horlen in the spotlight, and "Plant Based," written as a feature for the band's bassist—John Goldsby. The latter category includes songs from each of Gilkes' three previous albums. The title track from Edenderry (Alternate Side Records, 2005) is introduced with some rich and prayerful brass work, later playing out as a dreamy affair that shines a light on Gilkes' virtuosity; "End In Sight," originally presented on Lost Words (Alternate Side Records, 2008), is ushered in with a brass pas de deux that expands to include other voices, driven by the rhythm section, and focused on the solo work of saxophonists Karolina Strassmayer and Paul Heller; and "Downtime," showing up previously on Sound Stories (Alternate Side Records, 2012), closes out the program and gives Gilkes one final stand as soloist.

In scripting his own farewell from the WDR Big Band, Gilkes manages to showcase this exceptional ensemble, tap into the individual talents of its members, and highlight his own work as composer, arranger, and performer. European big band releases and trombone-fronted albums rarely place (well) in American jazz polls, but Köln could prove to be the exception. This is an early contender for album of the year.

Track Listing: My Shining Hour; Vesper; 4711 Special; Edenderry Intro; Edenderry; Plant Based; Mary Louise; End In Sight Intro; End In Sight; Downtime.

Personnel: Johan Horlen: reeds; Karolina Strassmeyer: reeds; Olivier Peters: reeds; Paul Heller: reeds; Jens Neufang: reeds; Ludwig Nuss: trombone; Shannon Barnett: trombone; Andy Hunter: trombone;Mattis Cederberg: trombone; Wim Both: trumpet, flugelhorn; Rob Bruynen: trumpet, flugelhorn; Andy Haderer: trumpet, flugelhorn; John Marshall: trumpet, flugelhorn; Michael Rodriguez: trumpet, flugelhorn; Frank Chestenier: piano; Paul Shigihara: guitar; John Goldsby: bass; Hans Dekker: drums.

Title: Köln | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Alternate Side Records


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