Composer and trombonist Marshall Gilkes is a successor to a line of virtuoso trombonists from the big band and jazz eras to the symphony orchestra. He soars into the instrument’s stratosphere with his sumptuous rich tones and commands the trombone’s full expressive range. His tonal vocabulary and facility are sensually dazzling, making it seem easy to glide through difficult passages at lightning speeds (sixteenth notes on the beat at about 150 beats per minute). Gilkes continues the traditions of soloists set by artists like Tommy Dorsey of the big band area to more recent greats like J.J. Johnson, whom I heard at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York.
The Trombone in History
The trombone is a special instrument. Used for centuries for religious music, it first gained fame as a member of an orchestra’s brass section in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor (1808). Since Beethoven, the trombone and other brass instruments have been used to project rich, vibrant sounds that can express melody, authority, and splendor. As an example of the expressive beauty of brass, here is an arrangement of the pensive lyrical “Nimrod” from Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations. The power and excitement of brass are well cited in Aaron Copland’s glorious Fanfare for the Common Man, which uses full brass and percussion.
A Hint of Brilliance to Come
Before we move on, here is a sample from 2018 of Gilkes performing his composition “Always Forward” with the WDR big band. It provides a prescient hint of brilliance to come in Gilkes’s compositions in his 2022 Cyclic Journey. This new collection represents his internal and external presence.
A Magical Fusion of Styles
The first track opens with a sublime brass choir sound that segues into Gilkes’s jazz work with the rhythm section. It sets the mode for the album’s mix of brass artistry, jazz improvisation, sublime piano, bass, drums, and Gilkes’s brilliant solos. The album is a sophisticated improvisatory sojourn of contemporary, tonal jazz idioms.
On the first track, the brass rejoins the ensemble behind Gilkes’s rich improvisations over the song’s form. The rhythm section backs off, and the brass quietly proffers a postlude. This magical fusion of styles is akin to Blood Sweat & Tears’ classic treatment of the song God Bless the Child.
World Class Artists
The album’s features an incomparable coterie of gifted artists. They include pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Linda May Han Oh, and drummer Johnathan Blake. Brass players include trumpeters Brandon Ridenour, Ethan Bensdorf, and Tony Kadleck, French horn Adam Unsworth, trombone Joseph Alessi, bass trombone Nick Schwartz, euphonium Demondrae Thurman, and tuba Marcus Rojas.
Crisp, Cool Jazz
The contrast between the simultaneous and seemingly disparate sounds of a brass ensemble and crisp, cool jazz with a rhythm section is sensually and intellectually stimulating. Its various sounds and moods are sparkling, coruscating, and frequently choric, spiritual, and bel canto. The trumpets regularly perform in their brilliant high registers and tackle technical demands like virtuosic spirited double tonguing at impressive speeds.
Readers may think this music is for brass aficionados. That is not the case, even though music featuring brass instruments has sometimes drawn a boutique audience, as my peers and I demonstrated years ago. As a young trumpet student, I recall obtaining free student seats for Carnegie Hall from Dean Josephine Whitford at the Manhattan School of Music (she used to ring a bell when she had tickets). I sat in stratospheric seats with my fellow brass players just to hear the renowned brass section from the Chicago Symphony (we couldn’t see them without binoculars). We flocked to the Carnegie Deli afterward to chat with the orchestra’s brass section that assembled there after the concert for hot pastrami and onion rings. I recall famed trumpeter Adolph Herseth over cheesecake and coffee, reminding me that every note I played must sound as if I am making a recording or performing at a recital or conservatory jury. When I mentioned that advice to my teacher Mel Broiles, he assigned me to record my practice work of Marcel Bitsch’s etude No. 9 on cassette tape (I always thought etude No. 9 was attributed to the author’s last name).
A Beautiful Sonic Sojourn
Gilkes’s new album Cyclic Journey touches anyone who appreciates and enjoys world-class artistry and virtuosity in classical and jazz idioms. Cyclic Journey is a musical adventure where the listener can experience the sounds of a team of musicians at the top of their game. At the same time, Gilkes shares a biographical virtual journey that emerged from his creative imagination. As you listen, close your eyes, and permit yourself to be transported through his ephemeral, beautiful sonic world.
Trombonist/Composer Marshall Gilkes Presents: Cyclic Journey
Available September 30, 2022, on Alternate Side Records
The pre-order date is September 2, 2022.
The album contains nine parts plus a 10th Bonus Track of astonishing brass virtuosity.
Featuring Marshall Gilkes-trombone, compositions, production
Linda May Han Oh-bass
Johnathan Blake-drums B
randon Ridenour-trumpet, piccolo trumpet, flugelhorn
Ethan Bensdorf-trumpet, flugelhorn
Tony Kadleck– trumpet, flugelhorn
Nick Schwartz-bass trombone