Phil Donkin - double bass
Ben Wendel - tenor saxophone
Glenn Zaleski - piano
Jochen Rueckert - drums
Recorded at Systems Two Studios, Brooklyn, August 12/13
Engineer - Max Ross
Mixed by Jochen Rueckert
Mastered by Nate Wood
Produced by Phil Donkin
Executive Producer - Michael Janisch
released March 9, 2015
ABOUT THE ALBUM
"To my ears, Phil Donkin does it all, he propels The Gate relentlessly/effortlessly with his melodic, interactive, driving basswork (Macon Groove is evidence enough). Not to mention the fine writing, his keen ear for detail and an eye fixed on the big picture, and larger vistas just ahead."
- Drew Gress, (internationally renowned bassist)
The Gate is the debut album from Phil Donkin, one of the preeminent bassists of his generation in jazz and improvisation-based music. Originally from the UK, he established himself in London and subsequently made the move to New York City where he lived for a number of years. Currently based out of Germany he maintains a hectic international touring schedule and has performed with many of world's marquee artists including Kurt Rosenwinkel, John Abercrombie, Kenny Wheeler, Julian Arguelles, Evan Parker, Nils Wogram, Marc Copland, Bill Stewart, Ralph Peterson, Nasheet Waits, Edward Simon, Kevin Hays and others.
Featuring Grammy-award nominated saxophonist Ben Wendel, drummer Jochen Rückert and pianist Glenn Zaleski, The Gate is a debut of depth and maturity with ten original compositions and two covers (Thelonius Monk and Dmitri Shostakovich). With plenty of wit and intelligence the pieces are navigated expertly by the four members, displaying a myriad of textures and emotions.
Phil explains: "I wanted to create a program of music that anyone can enjoy, but doesn't dumb down to a notion that non-jazz audiences need to be condescended to. I think good music regardless of genre communicates on a human level, and the dividing forces that have been created artificially by the music press and industry now dictates how people are allowed to enjoy and receive music. I think that notion is wrong and I want my music to defy it."
The Gate doesn't hold back; it both challenges and engages the listener. Pieces like 'Matriarch', 'The Lost Shoe' and the title track show a somewhat subdued and melancholic subtextual nature, pulling at the listener's heart-strings but somehow with a fiery visceral energy that creates a juxtaposition of emotions. 'La Jurona' and 'Introspection' display some of the rhythmic subtleties for which Donkin is known, displaying the bass player's uncanny ability to glide effortlessly through forms and time changes with poise, elegance and muscularity. Complemented by Rückert the rhythm section excel throughout, playing off each other astutely; one hears the depth of listening, sharing responsibility to drive the band while taking turns in directing the music and supporting the others as risks are taken, of which there are plenty.
Donkin explains "This music is in no way safe. We're all taking risks and supporting each other at the same time. For me, that has always been the most exciting thing to listen to and to play, because it's human. I don't want an album which has been perfectly edited and so therefore shows no sign of weakness. That is boring and doesn't show anything of the soul of the music. I need there to be both empathy and bravery for me to enjoy it. This obviously requires intense listening, and I think unfortunately that doesn't happen enough in jazz now. What I hear a lot of is virtuosos who have become a self-sufficient tower of strength, who somehow aren't responsive to their musical environment. Of course we all want to be as good as we can be, but when playing with others we are vulnerable because we don't know what's going to happen. To overcome that problem we must trust, and have faith that amazing things can happen if we let go and listen. One would hope that through years of playing and practicing, our hands know what to do, so listen and let the heart take over.”
There's a healthy amount of swing on this record as well. 'Macon Groove,' named after the street in Brooklyn where Donkin lived, displays his ability to play an extremely nimble melody resonant of Warne Marsh and Lennie Tristano. Other pieces like 'Butterfingers', 'One for Johnny,' and 'Yesterday At My House' are quirky tunes which invite creativity from the entire band, something they do with aplomb throughout the record. With The Gate Donkin not only showcases his virtuosity as a bassist, but arrives as a notable composer of breadth and originality.
"Phil Donkin is a British double bassist with a thundering sound and impeccable time, who has built a transatlantic reputation as a player and then turned out to be a gifted composer too."
★★★★ The Guardian
"Magnificent set... A thoroughly absorbing listening experience and hopefully a big step towards Donkin becoming more well known as a composer and leader."
★★★★ Music OMH
"The troup demonstrates how vibrant and exciting acoustic jazz can sound in the 21st century. The ten original compositions score with crisp bass lines, catchy melodies and intricate rhythms."
Jazz 'n' More
"A core of pulsating, contemporary jazz with a thread of thoughtful, lustrous beauty woven through it. The band make light of twists and shifts of harmony and meter with some fabulous soloing. Donkin grabs the ear without being showy."
"As a leader, Donkin supplies thematic counterpoint, quietly accompanying voices and his solos are a tour de force."
"Donkin's musical tastes are broad, and this comes through in the most natural way on The Gate."
"Donkin intersperses elastic-rhythmic accompaniment and virtuosic solos."
Music an sich
"The Gate is Donkin's debut; an album that displays depth and experience."
"Donkin has waited for the right moment with a debut straight from the top drawer."
★★★★ Jazzwise Magazine
"Whether starting a groove, stating a melody, shadowing the piano left-hand, accompanying the saxophone or locking in to a complex rhythm pattern with the drums, Donkin’s bass is deep, strong and richly woody throughout these 12 tracks."
The Jazz Breakfast
"This is simply good music. The Gate raises Donkin's profile to new heights."
"A beautiful and above all always surprising album."
"Phil Donkin is fast making a name for himself as one of the most in-demand young musicians working in the jazz genre today."
"In its labyrinthine themes and cool ensemble hipness, The Gate sounds at times like a 1990s Holland band, but with the excellent Wendel’s sax sound drawing equally on the cool school tradition and the 21st-century downtown scene’s rhythmic innovations."
★★★★ The Guardian
"There aren’t any duds."
The Jazz Breakfast
"This one goes off like a rocket and keeps up the pace to the end."
★★★★ Jazz Journal
"In a very short space of time Whirlwind has established a reputation as a purveyor of high quality contemporary jazz and improvised music that ranks alongside labels such as ACT and Steeplechase and this debut release by bassist and composer Donkin is further testimony of the integrity of its artistic policy."
"Rhythmic intricacies compounded with natural and powerful elegance is [Donkin's] game... With repeated listening the album reveals new depths."