Marshall Gilkes and the WDR Big Band
Alternate Side Records
Twice Grammy-nominated trombonist and composer Marshall Gilkes, well-renowned for his big band compositions, teams with the esteemed WDR Big Band for Life Songs. There’s some glowing history here as The WDR Big Band is where Gilkes both established and cemented as reputation. If the third time is indeed the charm, this will be it as Gilkes spent four memorable years in Cologne, and just after his departure in late 2013, he reunited with the ensemble for the 2x GRAMMY nominated album Köln, his first large ensemble project as a leader. The encore followed in 2018, with Always Forward, bringing us to his third turn at the plate for LifeSongs, an album intended to depict what’s going on in our multi-faceted world, replete with melodic brassy arrangements, outstanding ensemble work, and memorable solos from many of the band members. Gilkes has a true gift for these mostly majestic scores.
“Fresh Start” with Gilkes as the lone soloist opens, a bright tune signifying getting back to normal after the pandemic that Gilkes describes as a min-concerto. “Back in the Groove” is another play on the same theme with the honors going to alto saxophonist Johan Hörlén and pianist Billy Test, essaying the forward motion. According to Dan Bilawsky’s liner notes, Test’s solo was inspired by Brad Mehldau and the groove on his version of “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” from Day is Done. “Cora’s Tune” revisits the tune for Gilkes’ daughter that appeared on his 2020 trio recording Waiting to Continue, and on the 2021 release Travelers from the trombone quartet Gilkes co-leads, Slide Monsters. This version is arranged much like the later, except with orchestration that finds a balance between the woodwinds and brass, with Gilkes again the lone soloist.
“My Unanswered Prayer” is essentially a big band somber hymn, decrying gun violence. The orchestration is brilliant in its ascending brassy elegiac tones, a graceful but mournful flute, and the fittingly emotive Test piano statement. As an antidote of sorts, the lovely children’s lullaby, “All the Pretty Little Horses” follows, sung in wordless vocals by Sabeth Perez with features for Hörlén, this time on soprano as well as Test. Though the vocal with big band is a first for Gilkes, the Air Force Academy had commissioned Gilkes to compose this several years ago. “Middle Ground” is a piece meant to signify finding a compromising point in our ever-increasing divisive world. Like his smaller combo, he puts the focus on four trombones here, with Ludwig Nuss and Raphael Klemm soloing first on the chorales. The tune has a basic and Latin section with Gilkes and Andy Hunter stepping forward in the latter. “Sin Filtro” has more than a few tinges of Spanish motifs. This writer found himself referencing Gil Evans and Miles in the classic “Sketches of Spain” in some of the passages and the piece is a showcase for Gilkes’ virtuosity on his instrument. The gently flowing Rodgers and Hammerstein ballas “This Nearly Was Mine” glows with Andy Haderer’s flugelhorn work against a soft cushion of flutes, woodwinds, and muted brass. The piece builds to a glorious crescendo, only to resolve in beautiful calm tones. In ying and yang fashion, “Sugar Rush” brims with that kind on energy injection commensurate with the title, as tenorist Paul Heller and Gilkes step out.
Those who latch onto the digital version will be treated with two more tracks, “Taconic Turns,” and “Longing for Home.” We’ll leave that to your discovery, knowing that they will be equally as interesting as likely just as dazzling as these none on the CD version. Gilkes has a true gift for large ensemble fare, and unlike many big league sluggers, avoids the strikeout and goes over the fence on his third time at the plate.
- Jim Hynes
Help Support Making a Scene
Your Support helps us pay for our server and allows us to continue to bring you the best coverage for the Indie Artists and the fans that Love them!
Make a one-time donation
Make a monthly donation
Make a yearly donation
Choose an amount
Or enter a custom amount
Your contribution is appreciated.
Your contribution is appreciated.
Your contribution is appreciated.DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly