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Marshall Gilkes / WDR Big Band: Koln

Jack Bowers By

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For four years, American-born trombonist Marshall Gilkes (pronounced "Jilks") was a member of one of Germany's premier jazz ensembles, the WDR Big Band, in Cologne (Koln). One month after leaving the band in 2013, Gilkes was invited back to preside over a farewell performance at the WDR Funkhaus Studio 4, the result of which is this sharp and stylish recording, named after the city in which Gilkes embraced new friends while broadening his musical horizons.

Gilkes wasn't asked back simply to display his prowess on trombone, even though that in itself is remarkable. The WDR had bigger plans in mind. Besides soloing on three tracks, Gilkes arranged every song on the album and wrote all of them save one, Harold Arlen / Johnny Mercer's sunlit opener, "My Shining Hour." Gilkes solos superbly on that one, as he does on "Edenderry" and the bravura finale, "Downtime." His deft use of expansive dynamics, seductive harmonies and varying time signatures is another hallmark, one that surfaces throughout the balance of the session. Like many of his contemporaries, Gilkes composes with specific images and memories in mind. The emphatic "4711 Special," for example, is a salute to Cologne's signature perfume, which has been produced for more than two centuries, the lyrical "Mary Louise" a bouquet to Gilkes' mother, a classical singer and pianist. The elegant "Edenderry" (which is preceded by a splendid chorale-like introduction, as is "End in Sight") refers to the family's street address in Colorado, the groovy "Plant Bassed" to the fact that bassist John Goldsby, who is showcased, is a vegan, while the reverential "Vesper" is remindful of an evening prayer.

"End in Sight," a colorful mosaic written while Gilkes was a student at Juilliard, precedes "Downtime," on which Gilkes once again unlimbers his impressive chops. For its part, the WDR's standout soloists include pianist Frank Chastenier ("Vesper," "Mary Louise"), flugel John Marshall ("Vesper"), trombonist Ludwig Nuss and alto Johan Horlen ("4711 Special"), Goldsby and guest trumpeter Michael Rodriguez ("Plant Bassed"), Rodriguez (flugel) on "Mary Louise," alto Karolina Strassmayer and tenor Paul Heller ("End in Sight"). Gilkes and his trombone are back in the States now but not before having fashioned a legacy in and around Koln that won't soon be forgotten, thanks in part to this splendid valedictory.

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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