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Chris Gekker: Moon Marked

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Chris Gekker is one of America’s most acclaimed trumpet players, and currently professor of trumpet at the University of Maryland. This is his second album for Metier, recordings of works by six composers.

Given his academic role, this programme of music could come over as dryly technical it does not, thanks to the warmth of his playing and the fact that it occupies a hinterland between jazz and classical, with a bit of brass banding thrown in.

Richard Auldon Clark’s …And Justice For All? opens. It is thoughtful and begins with sad, if romantic, solo viola, with a faint eastern / Jewish air, interspersed with a smoother and bluesier trumpet. It’s an interesting start as it seems to flag up that the music is going to sit between classical and jazz. It’s cinematic, the music for a dark spy film as the anti-hero walks away into the darkness. The answering trumpet is then backed by a gentle walking bassline, moving the action more to the mean streets of LA and a Raymond Chandler film noir starring Philip Marlowe. It’s lovely in a gloomy way and could appeal to fans of classical and late night jazz.

Elegy For A Sultry Summer Afternoon by Lance Hulme follows and is similar in tone, the piano accompanying the trumpet, the two weaving in out. Again the trumpet adds a jazzier feel to the more classical-sounding piano.

Carson Cooman came up with the term “moon marked” after reading accounts of astronauts, their perception of reality altered when they came back to Earth. The title piece is for clarinet and trumpet “an ever-shifting exploration of colour and timbre” say the sleeve notes, “a bit like a grown-up take on music from The Clangers*” say we: it’s not childish, it’s got the feel of lonely planets floating in space; a slightly cold sound putting us in mind of rattling dustbin lids, but an enjoyable piece.

Variations And Fugue On A Theme By Brahms for flugelhorn and piano was composed by Eric Ewazen and commissioned by Gekker, use the opening theme of a Brahms piece that Gekker grew up hearing his father play. As one might expect, it’s a gentle and reflective piece initially edging towards a purer brass sound but the swelling piano later takes it somewhere else, not quite classical but not really anything else, just a nice piece of music.

Divertimento is for oboe, viola, and trumpet and composed by Richard Auldon; before its first performance, Gekker said he joked about “an oboist, violist, and trumpeter walking into a bar.” It’s one of the more classical pieces, the instruments often following each other repeating the same notes and providing a comparison. This piece is varied in sound and ranges from moments of more out-there modernity to jolly melody.

The album closes gently with Acquainted With The Night, inspired by a poem by Robert Frost, and Peace On Earth.
* Kids TV show in England: knitted creatures live on small planet with a soup dragon for company. Space is noisy and full of dustbin lids.

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