Marshall Gilkes & The WDR Big Band – Köln – Alternate Side ASR008, 68:04 ****:

(Marshall Gilkes – trombone, composer, arranger, conductor – WDR Big Band)

Comparisons can be a tricky business and might be often misleading. However, be that as it may, there appears to be musical similarities between the WDR Big Band headed in this recording by trombonist Marshall Gilkes, and trombonist Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass. The texture of the arrangements, the full orchestral sound with a trombone lead, conjures up similar aural images. This release is entitled Köln, and it is a full-bodied exposition of a top-notch big band, lead by an exceptional trombonist.

In this ten-tune outing, all of the arrangements and nine of pieces are from the pen of Gilkes. The exception is the opening track “My Shining Hour”, which was written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. It is an enthusiastic number, that in addition to Gilkes’ trombone solo, has some nifty brush work from drummer Hans Dekker. Interspersed within the frame, is some tricky harmonic passages from the trombone section. “Vesper” starts the Gilkes’ compositions, and it is a mournful arrangement that features pianist Frank Chastenier,  and the Flugelhorn of John Marshall riding over the band’s ensemble passages.

For those who are into cologne, perhaps “4711 Special” may be the answer. Named after the original Eau De Cologne, the band offers an auditory rather than an olfactory experience. Lead by trombonist Ludwig Nuss, and alto player Johan Hörlen, the band takes its pleasure from the changing nature of the arrangement, that brings all the sections of the orchestra into play with a spirited result. Another charmer is “Plant Bassed” written for bassist John Goldsby, who opens the number with some strong improvisation, which carries throughout the composition. Although the number has a blues line, it segues into a Latin section, lead by guest trumpeter Michael Rodriguez, whose playing rides over the band with ferocity.

Regardless of where the laser beam stops, whether it is “Mary Louise”, “End In Sight”, or “Downtime”, the quality of big band arranging and playing is splendid. On top of that, although Gilkes confines himself to soloing on only three charts, the guy has oodles of talent. Since this was Gilkes’ farewell recorded performance with The WDR Big Band, it provided a fervent and melodic display from an exemplarly ensemble.

TrackList: My Shining Hour; Vesper; 4711 Special; Edenderry Intro; Edenderry; Plant Bassed; Mary Louise; End In Sight Intro; End In Sight; Downtime

—Pierre Giroux