Marshall Gilkes & the WDR Big Band

(Alternate Side)

Inspired by life itself, this brilliant new recording by a great jazz artist leading an elite ensemble through a program of original big band music relates directly to everything going on in the world these days. LifeSongs represents something of a musical homecoming for Marshall Gilkes, the virtuoso trombonist and composer who spent four years in Germany making his mark within the ranks of the WDR Big Band’s brass section until his departure in late 2013. A month after his WDR tenure ended, Gilkes and the mighty Cologne-based big band reunited for what would become the album Köln, his auspicious large-ensemble project debut. In 2018, the two teamed up again for Always Forward. And now, the two entities come together for yet another go-round with LifeSongs, Gilkes’ third album fronting WDR and his eighth release as a leader. The program finds Gilkes channeling events and experiences from his own personal sphere as well as the world itself. The bold opener “Fresh Start” is a mini concerto that relates to human existence in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, while the soulful followup “Back In The Groove” references the pace of life renewed, with solo spotlights on alto saxophonist Johan Hörlén and pianist Billy Test. Gilkes revisits and revises his composition “Cora’s Tune” (written for his daughter), a piece he’s recorded in different configurations on two previous albums and which appears here in a texturally enriched format. “My Unanswered Prayer” addresses gun violence in the U.S.; its combination of elegiac tones and haunting harmonies prove an appropriate fit for the disturbing subject matter. Other album highlights include the spellbinding “All The Pretty Little Horses,” commissioned by the Air Force Academy Band and featuring vocalist Sabeth Pérez, and the supercharged “Sugar Rush,” which paints a portrait of candy-fueled youth and gives tenor saxophonist Paul Heller a healthy stretch of solo space while reminding listeners of the power of play and the sweetness of life itself. The digital download version of LifeSongs includes two substantial bonus tracks: the thrilling “Taconic Turns,” a medium-up romp distinguished by hard accents, rhythmic displacement and bright soloing (by trumpeter Ruud Breuls and alto saxophonist Pascal Bartoszak); and the Brazilian-flavored, wistful “Longing For Home,” a soulful reflection on the nature of inspiration itself that features uplifting solo statements by bassist John Goldsby and tenor saxophonist Ben Fitzpatrick. Traversing the realms of big band swing, post-bop, Latin jazz and classical chamber music in one fell swoop, LifeSongs reaffirms Gilkes’ status as one of the premier large-ensemble composers of our time, and once again establishes him as a first-rate instrumentalist and improviser whose many gifts amount to a gift from the universe to anyone eager and brave enough to embrace life itself.

On Sale Now
April 2024
Béla Fleck
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