Album Review: Always Forward from Marshall Gilkes WDR Big Band
Label: Alternate Side Records
Always Forward from trombonist-composer-arranger Marshall Gilkes highlights the glamor and companionship found in big band ensembles. Merging traditional swing with modern concepts, Gilkes brings big band music into the 21st century. He re-imagines jazz standards, articulating the voices of the instruments from new angles, developing the interludes and elaborating on the counter-dialogues. His own wails are sharp and malleable, moving between being in the forefront and being part of the backdrop as other instruments take centerstage. When other bandleaders aim for order, Gilkes creates a bit of chaos as instruments enter and leave in sporadic waves.
Always thinking about where else the music can go, Gilkes applies this approach to “Easy To Love” as Johan Hörlén gavels a crackling alto sax solo. The dainty swells opening “Morning Smiles” build up incrementally into a billowing crescendo that releases slowly along the fluid rotations. Bright and bubbly in big band fashion, numbers like “Switchback” and “Lost Words” are spiked by whipping flurries, switching verses that had been played by the piano traditionally and having the brass and woodwinds play the motifs. Changing the counter-dialogue creates a bout of havoc that is unfamiliar at first but easily falls into place.
The compositions have multiple layers as instruments are played on top of one another, producing a crowd-like atmosphere where each one is playing off the same idea. There is order among the many voices, inducing a companionship that gives the music a positive charge. Gilkes brings many characters into a composition, all moving together in harmony, conscious of each other’s parts.
Gilkes’ remake of “Portrait of Jennie,” a standard recorded by Freddie Hubbard, Clifford Brown, Wes Montgomery, Nat King Cole and J.J. Johnson, develops the phrases of the woodwinds and accents the piece with the bulging notes of his trombone. Finishing the recording with the title track, Gilkes makes a statement about life, always aiming to move forward. The mid-tempo number is a comfy ride, clamped in sunny horns and spirited flourishes.
With big band vigor and flare, Always Forward induces a festive atmosphere. Hefty on horns, the music is dotted in synchronized bursts and reverberating blazes, keeping to the traditions of big band music while broadening its boundaries.
Marshall Gilkes composer, arranger, conductor, trombone
Johan Hörlén-alto saxophone/flute/clarinet
Karolina Strassmayer-alto saxophone/flute/clarinet
Olivier Peters-tenor saxophone/clarinet
Paul Heller-tenor saxophone/clarinet/bass clarinet
Jens Neufang-baritone saxophone/bass clarinet
Mattis Cederberg-bass trombone
Lorenzo Ludemann trumpet/flugelhorn
Ruud Breuls- trumpet/flugelhorn