CD REVIEW: Marshall Gilkes and the WDR Big Band – Köln

Marshall Gilkes and the WDR Big Band – Köln
(Alternate Side Records. CD Review by Nicky Schrire)

Large ensemble music is a goldmine for nuance and sonic detail, but it takes an exceptional and inspired person to take on the complexity of creating a full album of the genre (composing, arranging, notating, printing, checking scores and parts, coordinating rehearsal schedules, finding sizeable venues, often being responsible for paying the musicians, etc.) Composer, arranger and trombonist Marshall Gilkes is such a person.

New York-based Gilkes has a natural gift for creating evocative and exciting imagery on his latest album as a leader, simply titled Köln after the place in which the album’s featured WDR Big Band is based. His aptitude for showcasing both the individual and collective skills of the ensemble, widely considered one of the best professional big bands in jazz, as well as his own charismatic playing is testament to his ability as composer and arranger. Perhaps the four years he spent as a full-time member of the ensemble, or his continued work in the exemplary Maria Schneider Orchestra have helped shaped his identity and ability, but this album serves as a perfect vehicle for getting better acquainted with Gilkes’ writing and distinctive voice.

The opening interpretation of Arlen and Mercer’s My Shining Hour with its harmonically modulating and delectably winding introduction and Gilkes’ fiery solo sets the tone for the recording. There’s a succinctness and control within Gilkes’ arranging yet the musical result never sounds overly pedantic nor unmusical. The unison bass and piano line accentuated by Hans Dekker’s playful drumming in 4711 Special (which also boasts a dazzling solo from alto saxophonist Johan Hörlen) beautifully opens and ends the piece. It’s a symmetry that serves the tune well, while the soaring melodic theme has the same sublime emotional connection as much of Schneider’s thematic work.

The reflective ballad Vesper, and the poignant waltz Mary Louise (written for Gilkes’ mother) further showcase strong melody writing, while the arrangements provide inventive cushioning for soloists, including guest flugelhornist Michael Rodriguez and WDR pianist Frank Chastenier. But Gilkes’ is able to retain melodic integrity in the faster numbers too. The jaunty End in Sight is funky and punchy, a fact reiterated by saxophonists Karolina Strassmayr and Paul Heller who both contribute energetic solos with wailing exaltation.

The album which result from Gilkes’ endeavours is a superb recording, and celebrates a truly imaginative musician.

Köln is available on February 10, 2015.

LINK: Marshall Gilkes’ website

Categories: miscellaneous

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