Marshall Gilkes: Köln | Album Review

Fri, Feb 27, 2015, 06:00



Marshall Gilkes

Alternate Side


Trombonist Marshall Gilkes is one of those Americans who’s from everywhere. Born on an Air Force base in Washington DC, the son of a military band conductor, the Gilkes family moved often – New Jersey, Alabama, Illinois, Colorado – and when the son followed the father into professional music, he swapped the nomadic existence of an air force dependant for the life of a wandering musician.

If Gilkes has a home base, it’s been New York city since the late 1990s, but his most recent posting has been four years in Cologne working in the trombone section of the excellent WDR big band.

Gilkes first came to attention as a member of the Maria Schneider Orchestra, very much the gold standard US big band.

With encouragement from Schneider, he began to lead his own groups and since 2005, he has released three small group recordings on his own Alternate Side label, including the widely praised Sound Stories (2012). Like most trombonists, he has also led a fairly promiscuous sideman existence, wandering the globe with Wynton Marsalis’s Lincoln Centre orchestra, Cameroonian bassist Richard Bona’s band and Colombian harpist Edmar Castaneda’s trio.

The WDR big band is that rarest of beasts, a full time, working big band – a relic of a time when dancing required the presence of 16 guys in suits with instruments and music stands.

Nowadays, pretty much the only full-time professional big bands are run by European broadcasters, and Westdeutschen Rundfunk’s is one of the best; former collaborators include Michael Brecker, Joe Zawinul and Vince Mendoza, and WDR have a case full of Grammys to prove it.

Having spent four years in their ranks, Gilkes knows his musicians and deploys his resources wisely.

This live set kicks off with a storming, up tempo version of My Shining Hour, with the trombonist displaying his mastery of the instrument’s slippery articulation.

After that, it’s Gilkes originals all the way, clever but warm-hearted compositions from a musician with a deep understanding of large ensembles and how they work, referencing Ellington, Gil Evans, Kenny Wheeler, and particularly Maria Schneider, but also folk-inclined classical composers like Aaron Copland.