Largely comprised of the trombonist Marshall Gilkes’ compositions and arrangements performed by the WDR Big Band and recorded in the WDR Funkhaus Studio 4 in the German city of Cologne that lends its name to the title, this is Gilkes’ fourth album as leader, his first fronting a big band.

Gilkes is now freelancing widely back in the States after several years' full time in the WDR and performs there in his home country with Maria Schneider’s orchestra and Edmar Castañeda. Germany has a healthy number of impressive professional big bands and the WDR is the best of the lot, this album underlining that claim even though this album really is about Gilkes’ artistry, the orchestra delivering the musical message. His arrangements are excellent and there is a subtlety in the main aspects you need as a listener to fully enjoy a modern big band album.

For me the main requirement is that the brass is not overwritten or too macho, a problem with most big bands and one which can impair the reeds or require them to overstate their case in the fight to get heard. Swing isn’t overused on Köln, again a deadening problem sometimes. Opener ‘My Shining Hour’ has the intimacy of a small group, and that quality is also something only really effective big band albums are equipped with in the musical direction even if it is pretty impossible to pull off but Gilkes has gone a long way down the road to facilitate this. And on ‘Vesper’ with solos by pianist Frank Chastenier and flugel player John Marshall it’s most obviously achieved. OK the type of composition suits this. Yet what is accomplished is more than the sum of the parts and even in the swells there is a lot of control.

John Goldsby’s bass mastery underpins a lot of the cleverness in the rhythm section while drummer Hans Dekker operating in the Wolfgang Haffner mould stylistically is his own man and loose enough to let the ensemble build from the beat. A must for big band fans and an album to persuade non-big band listeners to give this significant style within jazz more of a chance. As for Gilkes he’s a superb player with a buttery mellow ‘playing voice,’ and the tracks to hear him to greatest effect up close and personal are on ‘Edenderry’ and ‘Downtime.’

Stephen Graham

Out now