CD Review: Thimo Niesterok, Stepping Forward

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Today, German trumpeter Thimo Niesterok released his third album as a leader, “Stepping Forward,” on the German label Mons Records. With a reputation as one of the few German trumpeters dedicated to the art of swing music, Niesterok returns with a blend of timeless swing classics and fresh original compositions, brought to life by a trio of revered musicians in the German jazz swing scene: Thilo Wagner, Rolf Marx, and Henning Gailing. This album pays homage to the swing tradition while pushing boundaries with a modern twist.

Hailing from Southern Germany and now based in Cologne, Niesterok has earned a formidable reputation as a leading figure among the emerging vanguard of swing musicians. His career has taken him on extensive tours across Germany, Europe, and beyond, including captivating performances in India, South Korea, and a prestigious win at the Kobe Jazz Street Award, which led to an invitation as a soloist at the Kobe Jazz Street Festival in Japan.


“Stepping Forward” follows Niesterok’s 2017 debut, “First Clambake,” and the successful 2019 release, “Two Talkin’ Horns,” a collaboration with trombone legend Dan Barrett. Reflecting on the album, Niesterok remarked, “I really learned a lot of lessons from the first two albums. But now I felt, especially after the Covid time, that I had reached a point where I realized I had something new to say.” With this newfound inspiration, he assembled a stellar lineup, including pianist Thilo Wagner, guitarist Rolf Marx, and bassist Henning Gailing, known and respected figures in both the German and international swing scenes.

Niesterok’s choice of repertoire mirrors a philosophy that runs through the entire album: to select tunes with beautiful melodies that are a joy to play and make listeners feel good. The album kicks off with the title track, “Stepping Forward,” setting the stage with a swinging unison theme. Niesterok and pianist Thilo Wagner immediately establish their mastery of swing phrasing, leaving no doubt that this is a swinging affair. “Rose Room,” a tune with roots dating back to 1917 by Art Hickman, slows down the tempo and allows for a captivating muted trumpet solo. The track’s title, a reference to San Francisco’s St. Francis Hotel, is a nod to its historical significance.

“Dickie’s Dream,” originally penned by Lester Young and Count Basie, receives a fresh arrangement that retains its Basie essence while introducing inventive twists. Guitarist Rolf Marx shines with “Freddie Green” style comping and a standout solo. “‘Tis Autumn,” a Henry Nemo standard famously recorded by Nat King Cole, highlights Rolf Marx once again, showcasing his formidable skills on the guitar, while bassist Henning Gailing steps into the spotlight with a lyrical solo.


“I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” a Richard Rogers classic, may be a simple melody, but Niesterok and Wagner imbue their single choruses with soulful depth. The album includes Niesterok’s second original composition, “Night Stroll,” a blues-based track that features the unique combination of a Pixie Mute and a Plunger Mute, creating a voice-like quality that can convey a range of emotions. “Crazy ‘Bout My Baby,” a Fats Waller gem, gives bassist Henning Gailing a chance to shine with a swinging solo, followed by a spirited exchange of fours between Niesterok and Wagner. “Time On My Hands,” a Victor Youmans classic, offers a change of pace with its easy Latin feel, reminiscent of Nat King Cole’s trio, before transitioning into a heavy swing feel.

“Come Rain Or Come Shine,” a Harold Arlen classic, rounds out the album. Niesterok’s solo on this track exemplifies his command of the genre. The album’s third original composition, “Home,” is a tender duo piece for trumpet and piano, conveying the warmth of coming home after being on tour.

Closing out the album is the timeless standard “Pennies From Heaven,” showcasing both piano and guitar prominently, as Rolf Marx and Thilo Wagner take center stage, culminating in a swing-driven playground for improvisation.

“Stepping Forward” is a testament to Thimo Niesterok’s deep understanding of the swing style. His performances on the album reveal not only his status as a leading figure among the new generation of swing musicians but also his ability to curate a band of exceptional talent and produce an album that not only embodies the essence of swing but achieves his goal of making listeners happy.

1. Steppin’ Forward | 2. Rose Room | 3. Dickie’s Dream | 4. ‘Tis Autumn | 5. I Didn’t Know What Time It Was | 6. Night Stroll | 7. I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby | 8. Time On My Hands | 9. Come Rain Or Come Shine | 10. Home | 11. Pennies From Heaven

Thimo Niesterok, trumpet | Thilo Wagner, piano | Rolf Marx, guitar | Henning Gailing, bass

Release Date: 20 October
Format: CD | Streaming
Label: Mons Records

Last modified: October 21, 2023