Wednesday, November 04, 2015

George Gee Swing Orchestra Swing Makes You Happy!

George Gee has been leading the George Gee Swing Orchestra since 1980, inspired by Count Basie who mentored him. While leading the big little band (9 pieces that sounds much bigger) he has had the services of trombonist, composer and arranger David Gibson for five years and the results of their collaboration can be heard on “Swing Makes You Happy!” (Rondette Jazz).

The recording features 19 selections that include 5 Gibson originals, and three transcriptions from Chick Webb’s repertoire. Gibson handled all of the arrangements. Gibson’s trombone anchors the brass section that includes trumpeters Freddie Hendrix and Andy Gravish. The saxophone section consists of Ed Pazant, Michael Hashim and Tony Lustig on alto, tenor and baritone respectively; while the rhythm section consists of Steve Einerson on piano, upright bassist Marcus McLaurine and Willard Dyson on drums. Vocals are provided by Hilary Gardner and John Dokes.

Listening to this brings back memories of Panama Francis’ reincarnation of the Savoy Sultans from the late seventies and early eighties. This band swings hard and at full throttle with joyous conviction. The rhythm section is stellar and there are plenty of strong solos with Lustig’s baritone sax and Hendrix’s trumpet among the many pleasures throughout thsi recording. Gibson’s opening “Comin’ Home” is suggestive of Basie from the 50s as his the swinging “I Know.” Of the vocalists, I was already familiar with Hilary Gardner and she sings quite well on “Sweet Pumpkin”, and “No Moon At All.” This writer is not as enamored with Dokes. I have heard much better renditions of “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water,” although the taut Basie-style arrangement is solid as is Ed Pazant’s alto solo. Dokes also does not come across convincingly on “Evenin’,” which was a feature for Jimmy Rushing when he was with Basie. Gardner and Dokes duet on “If I Were a Bell.”

I do not wish to imply that Dokes is a poor singer, but to these ears he doesn’t convey the warmth and feeling of say Jimmy Rushing and Joe Williams (or Carmen Bradford who sang “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water” with Basie.). It is a minor criticism as the the music here is infectious with its ebullient spirit. Listing to the George Gee Swing orchestra, one indeed agrees that “Swing Makes You Happy!

I received my promo copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 358) although I have made some minor stylistic changes.  Here is a performance clip of them.

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