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Marshall Gilkes: Sound Stories

Dan Bilawsky By

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Lyrical strains and muscular machinations are a counterintuitive combination, but trombonist Marshall Gilkes is living proof that they need not be mutually exclusive methods of musical dissemination. Gilkes has made a name for himself through his work with Colombian harp hero Edmar Castaneda, the Maria Schneider and many others, but the full scope of his talents is better observed on his own albums.

Gilkes first gained wide recognition with "Puddle Jumping," from his 2004 debut, Edenderry (Alternate Side). His unerring accuracy on difficult-to-execute creations of his own design, along with his tonal clarity and sense of melody, immediately marked him as an important new voice. Since that time, Gilkes has lived up to and surpassed expectations, and he's made a name for himself as one of the guiding light trombonists of his generation.

His sophomore release, Lost Words (Alternate Side, 2008), was more nuanced, but Sound Stories bests them both in the category of compositional brilliance. Gilkes takes a page from Schneider's book, painting with rich harmonic color schemes and developing his ideas in through-composed fashion, but on the smaller scale of his quintet. Gilkes brings tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin—another Schneider-associated all star—aboard for this project, and he proves to be the perfect complimentary horn voice to fill out the front line. McCaslin is a rare artist who can sear eyebrows off with his intense playing, and then turn around a minute later and make people sigh at the beauty of his horn. Both skills prove to be useful during this program.

Sound Stories contains eleven Gilkes-penned pieces that showcase his round sound, exacting ideals and big picture, compositional thinking. The two-part "Presence" opens with crisp horn work and moves along in hurried fashion, eventually settling into a comfortable place. "Anxiety," another two-movement work, starts without any anxious intent, but "Part 2" lives up to the title. Later, Gilkes introduces "Slashes" with a "Puddle Jumping"-like line, but this song takes a far different path than that earlier piece, demonstrating how far Gilkes has come as a composer.

While Gilkes and McCaslin are both artists worth marveling at when they reach a boiling point, and the rhythm section fully excels in this area as well, the most memorable aspects of this album are the gentler moments. Gilkes and McCaslin both dole out beautiful, dovetailing lines that melt in mid-air countless times throughout this program; the results are always breathtaking.

While Gilkes seemed to arrive on the scene as a fully formed, astoundingly talented entity, he has continually managed to further his artistry by leaps and bounds since his auspicious debut. Sound Stories furthers this notion, proving to be a sensational musical journey.

Track Listing: Presence Part 1; Presence Part 2; Anxiety, Part 1; Anxiety, Part 2; Downtime; Slashes; Bare; Armstrong, Part 1; Armstrong, Part 2; First Song; Thruway.

Personnel: Marshall Gilkes: trombone; Donny McCaslin: tenor saxophone; Adam Birnbaum: piano; Yasushi Nakamura: bass; Eric Doob: drums.

Title: Sound Stories | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Alternate Side Records

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