Always Forward Marshall Gilkes & WDR Big Band (Alternate Side)
by Marco Cangiano
Marshall Gilkes and Germany’s WDR big band have produced a dazzling recording of sumptuous arrangements and melodic richness. A musicians’ musician, the trombonist has been featured in a number of jazz orchestras—most notably Maria Schneider’s—as well as classical ensembles. His talents as composer, arranger and conductor are renowned. His contributions as a soloist, however, may not have been fully appreciated. He descends from a very distinguished line of players, starting with J.J. Johnson and including Carl Fontana and Frank Rosolino. Gilkes’ solo cadenza in the opening “Puddle Jumping” and his lead in “Always Forward” are clear examples of technical fluidity combined with unique taste.
Gilkes is not new to the WDR, having been a full member between 2010-13. Largely based on original material, Always Forward builds upon Gilkes’ earlier effort with the WDR: 2015’s Grammy-nominated Köln. Besides composing eight originals and arranging all the music, he also conducts and takes a fair share of solo space. Among the many highlights, “Denali Suite”, named after and inspired by the Alaska National Park, stands out. Structured in three parts, the suite has an undeniable Schneider feeling in its capacity to translate natural landscapes into impressionistic music. The first part of the suite builds slowly towards Johan Hörlén’s climatic alto saxophone solo. The second part has an almost operatic overture leading to a quiet interlude by piano and rhythm section underpinned by flutes. The final section picks up the pace while setting the scene for Andy Hunter’s trombone. Among the other pieces, “Portrait of Jennie” is given a dramatic rendition, enriched by Andy Haderer’s flugelhorn. The WDR big band is splendid in executing the arrangements with gusto and in the quality of its many soloists, among them Karolina Strassmayer, Paul Heller, Simon Seidl and Hans Dekker. A wonderful CD, certainly a candidate for the next Grammys.
For more information, visit alternatesiderecords.weebly.com. Gilkes is at Miller Theatre Mar. 7th, Dizzy’s Club Mar. 18th and Silvana Mar. 28th. See Calendar.