Marshall Gilkes and the WDR Big Band: LifeSongs

Gilkes, a trombonist in the virtuoso tradition stretching back to JJ Johnson, wrote most of the music for this third set with German big band


Marshall Gilkes is part of a virtuosic tradition that includes trombone giants like JJ Johnson, Carl Fontana, Jimmy Cleveland, Bill Watrous, Phil Wilson and Frank Rosolino. He has recorded with Maria Schneider on Sky Blue, The Thompson Fields and Data Lords – “He is one of those musicians who leave me shaking in disbelief” was her reaction to his playing.

This is Gilkes third recording with the WDR Big Band. The first was Koln in 2014, which was nominated for a Grammy award (Alternate Side Records 008). He has also worked with the Vanguard and Duke Ellington orchestras and is currently a member of the classical trombone ensemble The Slide Monsters.

Gilkes wrote everything here except All The Pretty Little Horses and This Nearly Was Mine. The former is a traditional lullaby featuring vocalist Sabeth Perez who executes a charming duet with Johan Horlen’s soprano in the coda. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s standard has Andy Haderer’s lyrical flugelhorn front and centre just as it was on Portrait Of Jennie from the critically acclaimed Gilkes/WDR 2017 album Always Forward (Alternate Records 010).

The concerto-like Fresh Start is a bravura performance by the leader, who interacts with the ensemble with declamatory passages, rather like Rob McConnell used to with his Canadian Boss Brass. My Unanswered Prayer is inspired by the leader’s desire to see the end of “gun violence, particularly in the USA”. Amen to that. Middle Ground is written for the rich sound of the six-man trombone section calling to mind the Jay and Kai octet of the 50s. The Spanish-tinged Sin Filtro is notable for the leader’s huge intervallic leaps from the very top of his considerable range to the lowest of pedal tones.

As always, the WDR achieve a perfect reading of this difficult material.

(1) Fresh Start; Back In The Groove; Cora’s Tune; My Unanswered Prayer; (2) All The Pretty Horses; (1) Middle Ground; Sin Filtro; This Nearly Was Mine; Sugar Rush (74.24)
Gilkes (tb) with:
(1) Andy Hederer, Wim Both, Rob Bruyen, Ruud Breuls (t, flh); Johan Horlen, Pascal Bartoszak (as, f, ss, cl); Ben Fitzpatrick, Paul Heller (ts, cl); Jens Neufang (bar, bcl); Ludwig Nuss, Raphael Klemm, Peter Hedrich, Andy Hunter (tb); Mattis Cederberg (btb, tu); Billy Test (p); John Goldsby (b); Hans Dekker (d). Cologne, Germany, 11, 14, 15, 16 November 2022.
(2) as (1) add Sabeth Perez (v).
Alternate Side Records ASR 017