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Sound Stories-- Marshall Gilkes

Marshall Gilkes continues to impress on this, his third CD, with both his fluidity as a trombonist and his fresh approach as a composer. Gilkes lives in Cologne, Germany, where he's a member of the acclaimed WDR Big Band. Previously he resided in New York for 12 years, and returned for this recording session, which features saxophonist Donny McCaslin, pianist Adam Birnbaum, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and drummer Eric Doob. Apparently it only took a week-long preparatory gig at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola for this quintet to develop the fine-tuned rapport that is so evident throughout Sound Stories.

"Presence" is presented in two parts. Part 1 has a staccato flamenco-flavored theme played by Gilkes and McCaslin. The saxophonist enter his solo in sizzling fashion, swooping, wailing, and probing with great expressiveness. Birnbaum's contemplative part is through-composed, but the pianist adds his own melodic and chordal enhancements. Part 2's theme is a variation that leads to Gilkes' full-bodied and expertly built solo, and with elevating commentary by Birnbaum the trombonist moves from lyrical to intense. Dobbs offers impeccable, high energy support, and shines in a brief solo statement.

"Anxiety" also spans two tracks. Part 1 contains a graceful opening serenade by Gilkes and McCaslin, drifting from unison to contrapuntal passages. McCaslin's improv is an emotional ride that is also technically brilliant. The theme introduced on Part 2 is an uptempo modification. Gilkes' solo is compelling, especially so thanks to Nakamura's discerning accompaniment, before piano and drums enter the picture as the leader heats up and finally McCaslin returns to join Gilkes for his climactic phrases. Birnbaum gets to display an unusually strong melding of a swirling right-hand attack with crisp and complex left hand enhancements. The pianist's ostinato then frames Doob's tumbling, impetuous drum spot.

Gilkes' sound is perhaps best appreciated in his opening reading of the riveting, march-like "Downtime," here bolstered by Nakamura's adamant ostinato. Gilkes and McCaslin then combines forces for an interwoven theme reiteration. The bassist's solo is rich in both ideas and tonal quality, and the same can be certainly said for Gilkes' passionate declaration that follows. The title "Slashes" fits its darting, robust, and memorable theme. The legato nature of Gilkes' solo intro offers a surprising contrast, but he soon accelerates his attack in keeping with the "slashing" sensibility. McCaslin in turn is relentless in his swirling statement. The rhythm section provides an inspiring, prodding foundation for the soloists. One can again revel in Gilkes' sonority during the presentation of his lovely, very moving "Bare." Doob's subtly intricate cymbal work is a noteworthy contribution. Gilkes and Birnbaum play warmly eloquent solos before the trombonist's welcome reprise of his melody.

"Armstrong" (named for Gilkes' late grandfather) is another two-parter. Part 1 gives us a tango-rhythmed theme with exquisite co-voicings by Gilkes and McCaslin. Birnbaum's crystalline improv is a mesmerizing listen that segues into Part 2, where the front line's mournful refrain leads to McCaslin's biting and fiery narrative, totally uninhibited and genuinely felt. A theme reprise conveys a more hopeful attitude before Birnbaum's delicately introspective summation. Doob's colorations are outstanding on this selection.

Another distinctive and energetic Gilkes composition, "First Song" is delineated by the leader alone prior to McCaslin's participation. Birnbaum solos with unflagging creativity and thrust, while Gilkes characteristically chooses more careful probing at the start of his until he takes off with multi-noted abandon. "Thruway" offers the final chance to appreciate the way Gilkes (lush and warm) and McCaslin (throaty and sharp) merge in playing this insistent, intricate tune, first as a ballad and then with up-tempo urgency. McCaslin alternates short, choppy phrases with more extended lines in his captivating solo, ably supported at first by only Nakamura's throbbing bass patterns and later by committed assertions from Birnbaum and Dobbs. Gilkes' own driven, twisting-and-turning solo gets similarly responsive backing by the threesome. This is unsurpassed modern mainstream jazz that stands vividly out from the pack.

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Scott Albin