On February 10, 2015, trombonist/composer MARSHALL GILKES proudly releases his fourth album as a leader, simply titled for the home base of The WDR Big Band, KÖLN. This set of stunning compositions marks Gilkes first recording fronting a big band, but he is no stranger to this setting, being a regular member of Maria Schneider's Grammy Award-winning orchestra, (Schneider describes him as, "one of those musicians who continually just drops my jaw and leaves me shaking my head in disbelief"), and also due to his four years (2010 - 2013) as a full-time member of the Grammy Award-winning ensemble featured on Köln, The WDR Big Band.
Köln (to be released on Gilkes' label, Alternate Side Records, marking the label's eighth release) features seven original compositions from Gilkes that exhibits the artist's astounding ability to blend his many influences and experiences into a singular, distinctive voice. The compositions, and Gilkes arrangement of the standard, "My Shining Hour", combines the spontaneous invention of jazz with the elegant architecture of classical composition; straight-ahead swing with adventurous modernism; and virtuosic technique with passionate emotion. It's a rare combination that has made Gilkes an in-demand performer, composer, sideman, and clinician since his arrival in New York City in the late 1990s.
The origins of this album started with Gilkes joining The WDR Big Band (he has since resigned to engage in leading his own bands and high profile sideman work). After a long audition process that included several weeks of performances, Gilkes received an invitation to be a full-time member - a rare opportunity that he accepted immediately. In addition to first-class musicianship, Gilkes explains, "the WDR Big Band rehearses in a fully operational recording studio with full-time engineers and copyists - a truly unique operation. When the band plays in the Kölner Philharmonie, it is generally sold out, all 2,000 seats, with enthusiastic fans." As a WDR band member, he performed his final concert in December 2013, but, at the request of the band's producer, he returned the following month for a farewell concert of the material heard on Köln. Calling the experience "one of the highlights of my career," Gilkes eventually titled the album after the city where he lived during his four-year tenure with the WDR. "It is a vibrant city," he notes, "with an incredible music scene for such a small town. The jazz scene is booming, and young jazz musicians can be heard playing music at a very high level almost every night of the week."
"My Shining Hour" is a tune that Gilkes would often practice, up-tempo, in all 12 keys as well. "I decided to write a big band arrangement of it that sort of ended up being a bit of a 'theme and variations on My Shining Hour'", said Gilkes. Solo: Marshall Gilkes (trombone).
"Vesper" was written during a period of Gilkes having to make difficult decisions. He elaborates, "I would come home and write in the evening during this period and find it to be good therapy. I decided to call it 'Vesper' which is an evening prayer", said the artist. Solos: Frank Chastenier (piano), John Marshall (flugelhorn).
Gilkes composed "4711 Special" specifically with the WDR Big Band in mind. The piece was originally titled "Gill-kiz". Gilkes explains, "German is a language that is written like it sounds and sounds like it is written. I used to tell German people my name Gilkes (correct pronunciation is "jilx") and they would correct me on the pronunciation. It happened so often that people started calling me Gill-kiz as a joke. However, I thought the tune deserved a better title and finally changed it to "4711 Special", which is a number one sees all over Cologne, representing the number of the famous perfume that comes from Cologne. Solos: Ludwig Nuss (trombone), Johan Hörlen (alto saxophone).
"Edenderry" is the title track from Gilkes debut release as a leader, which he decided to expand and turn it into a brass chorale, creating quite a breathtaking variation on the original. "I was inspired by the pandiatonic harmonies of Aaron Copland. The intro begins with flugelhorns and trombones. The woodwinds enter later, and the chorale enters again before the closing vamp. Solo: Marshall Gilkes (trombone).
Gilkes composed "Plant Bassed" for the great WDR bassist John Goldsby, who happens to be a vegan. Gilkes explains, "my mom is also a vegan and is always talking about plant based diets. I tried to take some ideas that John uses in his improvisations and use them as a basis for the melody." Solos: John Goldsby (bass), and special guest Michael Rodriguez (trumpet).
"Mary Louise" was written for Gilkes' mom. "When I was a kid my mom was a piano and voice teacher and there was one particular exercise that she would work on with her students that has stuck with me all these years. I recall playing video games and hearing her practice this exercise with the syllables 'Zee-ee', singingbetween root and third, root and fourth, and root and fifth. I decided to try harmonizing that exercise and that serves as the intro to the composition, and reoccurs throughout the piece", said Gilkes. Solos: Special guest Michael Rodriguez (flugelhorn), Frank Chastenier (piano).
"End in Sight" is a tune from Gilkes second album Lost Words. The first half is very much an expansion of the original, however, the second half (tenor solo) floats over the same groove, but with brand new harmonies. Solos: Karolina Strassmayer (alto saxophone), Paul Heller (tenor saxophone).
"Downtime" is a composition from Gilkes' third album Sound Stories. This arrangement was written in 2012 for the WDR Big Band project featuring members of the band called "Very Personal". It is an expansion on the original that has an alternate introduction, and a new interlude as well. Solo: Marshall Gilkes (trombone).
Personnel on Köln: Marshall Gilkes: composer, arranger, conductor, trombone, special guest Michael Rodriguez: trumpet/flugelhorn, Johan Hörlen & Karolina Strassmayer-alto saxophone/flute/clarinet, Olivier Peters-tenor saxophone/clarinet, Paul Heller-tenor saxophone/clarinet/bass clarinet, Jens Neufang-baritone saxophone/bass clarinet, Ludwig Nuss, Shannon Barnett & Andy Hunter-trombones, Mattis Cederberg-bass trombone, Wim Both, Rob Bruynen, Andy Haderer & John Marshall-trumpet/flugelhorn, Frank Chastenier-piano, Paul Shigihara-guitar, John Goldsby-bass, Hans Dekker-drums.