by Richard Kamins
Trombonist and composer Marshall Gilkes came to love jazz and his instrument through his father who was a trombonist and conductor of the Air Force Band. The Gilkes family traveled the world going to Air Force bases and concert halls while the budding trombonist began to absorb all types of music. After studying at The Juilliard School in New York City, Gilkes settled there and played in dozens of ensembles as well as recording several small group albums between 2004-2012. He’s also a prominent member of the trombone section in the Maria Schneider Orchestra and tours with the Edmar Castañeda Trio.
In 2019, he played with the WDR Big Band based in Köln (Cologne) Germany for a concert with vocalist Patty Austin. The following year, he came back to play in the band behind guitarist Mike Stern and was invited to be a full-time member. During his tenure that lasted until 2013, Gilkes played numerous concerts throughout Europe. He was invited back one month later to play a “farewell concert” of his original music and the resulting album, “Köln“, was issued in 2015
“Always Forward” (Alternate Sides Records/WDR) reunites Gilkes with the WDR Big Band and was recorded over three days in early September 2017. As with the previous album, the program features mostly originals compositions and all arrangements by the trombonist (he also conducts the band) plus two standards. In one instance, the 19-member ensemble dances its way through Cole Porter’s “Easy To Love.” The melody is introduced by the brass sections (note how drummer Hans Dekker accentuates the melody). The song then is handed over to the reeds before alto saxophonist Johan Hörlen steps out for a delightful solo. The other is the oft-recorded “Portrait of Jennie“, the title song of a 1948 movie that has been covered by Nat “King” Cole, Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, Wes Montgomery, and many, many others. Here it serves as a showcase for a classically inspired opening plus an impressive flugelhorn solo from Andy Haderer.
I imagine just how much fun it must have been for Gilkes to stand in front of the band but even more fun to solo on four of the 10 tracks. The album opens with the powerful and playful “Puddle Jumping“; Gilkes’ solo is a tour-de-force, blending the sweeter sounds of the ‘bone with long flowing lines and octave leaps, “blats” and deep low notes. He returns for the beautiful “Morning Smiles.” This piece, composed for his infant son, would not be out of place on a Maria Schneider album. The lovely flute-dominated opening and the handsome trombone melody lead the listener into a wonderland of sounds. The elegant use of reeds and brass in the background before the rhythm section enters is simply stunning while the solo will make you sit forward and follow the musician all the way through.
The centerpiece of the album is the three-part “Denali Suite.” Not surprisingly, the song is inspired by a trip Gilkes and his wife took to Alaska for a wedding followed by a vacation. The composer states in the liner notes that the “melody in the middle section is one came up with while on the trip..” On his return home, he fleshed out the melody and orchestration, adding the opening and closing sections. “Part II“, in particular, is a thoughtful ballad played mostly by the brass yet, when the rhythm section comes in, the flutes are utilized to introduce the piano solo.
|Photo: All About Jazz|
The Maria Schneider influence is loud and clear on the title song which is also the album closer. Again, Gilkes is the only soloist but he gives the different sections various parts of the melody. On many of the songs, the brass takes the lead but here it is a subtle blend that moves the song forward. Gilkes begins his solo with only bassist John Goldsby offering support in the form of counterpoint. The drums and piano enter next then the reeds and the brass. All the while, the leader builds a dynamic, emotionally rich solo, one that dances even as it sings. The brass and reeds reintroduce the opening melody before the trombonist reenters for a quick recapitulation of his opening theme. The song closes as the trombone fades yet the piece does not resolve; it is left “open to remind all of us to think and act “always forward!”
Marshall Gilkes has matured before our very ears. He has long proven to be a dynamic and thoughtful soloist. Yet, these two albums with the WDR Big Band has shown us that he is a splendid orchestrator, arranger, and composer. “Always Forward” may be his credo In this time of global indecision and a turn away from democratic principles, this music makes a great case for art informing people, teaching people, even while entertaining people.
For more information, go to www.marshallgilkes.com.
Enjoy this lovely ballad:
Marshall Gilkes composer, arranger, conductor, trombone
WDR Big Band Personnel
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