November/December issue. Now in its 44th year of publishing
Composer-Arranger-Conductor-Trombonist Gilkes has an impressive resume including being a member of Maria Schneider’s Orchestra, who describes him as “one of those musicians who continually just drops my jaw and leaves me shaking my head in disbelief” … as well as being a former member of the WDR Big Band with whom he previously recorded a Grammy nominated recording. About this second recording leading this celebrated big band, he observed “Stand-ing in front of a band like that and writing for it…that’s a whole other drug. It’s one thing to play as a soloist and a member, but when you get to write and stand out front and hear all that hard work come back, it’s a pretty addictive thing.”
He is a multiple threat in all of his capacities here, and also joined by Germany’s swinging-est band that boasts such world class players and improvisers as alto saxophonists Karolina Strassmayer and Johan Hörlén; tenor saxophonist Paul Heller, trumpeter Andy Haderer; trombonist Andy Hunter; guitarist Paul Shigi-hara; bassist John Goldsby and drummer Hans Dekker.
The hard driving swing of this band is evident from the opening of “Puddle Jumping,” which also showcases’ Gilkes’ spectacular trombone playing set against a heated orchestration and several tempo transitions. Then there is a rousing spectacular rendition of Cole Porter’s “Easy To Love” with marvelous scoring of the horns with a tight statement of the melody from the brass here set with the reeds and a funky bass groove.
There is a marvelous alto sax solo from Johan Hörlén here as well. The mood changes with the gentle lyricism of “Morning Smiles,” with Wilkes playing in a mellow manner as the performance unfolds for a rhapsodic crescendo as the brass soars along with his trombone.
“Switchback” opens with a driving funk groove and showcases saxophonists Strassmayer on alto (set against Goldsby’s bass riff) and Heller’s fiery tenor sax. Drummer Dekker also takes a short solo set against Simon Seidl’s comping on piano. Here and elsewhere, this big band plays with the tightness of a much smaller group with the orchestrations adding color. Gilkes’ classical influences are displayed by the reeds and brasses providing a chamber-like opening to “Lost Words.” It has a relaxed, lyrical trombone solo followed by Seidl’s intricate playing bolstered by Goldsby’s emphatic bass. A lovely rendition of the ballad “Portrait of Jennie” has a lush arrangement and an exquisite flugelhorn solo from Andy Haderer.
The centerpiece of this recording is “The Denali Suite,” inspired by a trip to the National park in the State of Alaska. It features Hörlén’s swirling, spirited soprano sax on the rousing first movement, pianist Seidl playing in ruminative fashion on the hymn-like second part (wonderful scoring of the horns to engender that tone), and trombonist Andy Hunter growling a bit on the swinging third movement.
The album closes with the title track which according to Gilkes is about life and his own mindset that no
matter what is going around, one has to push forward. Again this performance displays all the facets of his musical persona, as a composer, arranger, conductor and a superb trombonist as this wonderful band builds to an uplifting crescendo closing a remarkable recording.