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Marshall Gilkes: Cyclic Journey

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Marshall Gilkes: Cyclic Journey
Photograph courtesy of the artist

The word cyclic can be used in many contexts. In its most mundane [for want of a better word] form it could be deemed an event occurring in repeated cycles. In the case of Cyclic Journey – this album by the accomplished trombonist Marshall Gilkes – it suggests at the outset “music containing a recurrent theme or motif.” However, Mr Gilkes, being an artist – composer and performer – full of proverbial surprises, has clearly imbued the term cyclic and this music with things extra-artistic, in the realm of the alchemical:

Here too Mr Gilkes provides an interesting twist for when used in the field of “chemistry”, the term refers to matter arranged in a ring – that is, organic compounds that are composed of a closed ring of atoms. This is only partially the case because if the musical notes of Mr Gilkes’ Cyclic Journey can be compared to the atoms in an organic compound [what a precious thought!] they are far from bound by a closed ring. In fact of the trajectory of notes that fly off the paper, at the hands of this brass ensemble [+rhythm section] has been freed to interact with altogether magical results. And this is to those who understand the magical bonding of organic elements in an organic compound – in a myriad of permutations and combinations – a thing of uncommon beauty.

So, whether viewed as musician or alchemist Mr Gilkes has turned out – as John Keats would have put it in his inimitable poetry – a thing of beauty… [that] is joy forever. Not only does the music bring the worlds of the programmatic or through-composed and the improvised together in an apparent mystical wonder of seamless engineering, but the intensity of feeling that lies at the heart and soul of this extended work come to life in the sheer poetry of its dark to light narrative.

In symphonic situations, brass and woodwinds usually combine even when an instrumentalist from one section is playing a cadenza or soloing. But because no woodwinds are employed here, Mr Gilkes uses all of his ingenuity to make a myriad of colours and tone-textures to collide. The effect is quite breathtaking as the various brass elements from trumpet and flugelhorn to the [darker] realms of bass trombone and tuba combine, often redolent in the hues of the euphonium. Nowhere is this better expressed than in the movements entitled The Calm, Go Get It! and [more so] in Genre Battles. Through it all Mr Gilkes often emerges in the limelight making his solo statements sing with eloquent nobility.

Mr Gilkes’ arrangements in which the full complement of musicians, including piano, bass and drums come together always take the music in surprising directions – more extrovert and playful, and altogether idiomatically more beautiful than ever. This speaks to the brilliant performance and sheer conviction of each of the musicians, who are- all of them – authentic and utterly convincing, even by musicians who may be more outward-bound by any standards. This is why you’ll want to return to this music several times; even then you will surely not tire of it – it’s that full of endless surprise.

Tracks – 1: Part I – First Light; 2: Part II – Up and Down; 3: Part III – The Calm; 4: Part IV – Go Get It! 5: Part V – Respite; 6: Part VI – Beat the Clock; 7: Part VII – Genre Battles; 8: Part VIII – Musings; 9: Part IX – Cyclic Journey; 10: Sin Filtro [bonus track]

Musicians – Marshall Gilkes: trombone and compositions; Aaron Parks: piano; Linda May Han Oh: bass; Johnathan Blake: drums; Brandon Ridenour: trumpet, piccolo trumpet and flugelhorn; Ethan Bensdorf: trumpet and flugelhorn; Tony Kadleck: trumpet and flugelhorn; Adam Unsworth: cor anglais; Joseph Alessi: trombone; Demondrae Thurman: euphonium; Nick Schwartz: bass trombone; Marcus Rojas: tuba

Released – 2022
Label – Alternate Side Records [ASR 13]
Runtime – 54:13

Deo gratis

Raul da Gama is a poet and essayist. He has published three collections of poetry, He studied at Trinity College of Music, London specialising in theory and piano, and he has a Masters in The Classics. He is an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep technical and historical understanding of music and literature.

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