The George Gee Swing Orchestra: Swingin' at Swing City Zurich (2004)

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According to the liner notes, George Gee’s Swingin’ at Swing City Zurich was recorded in a train station, the Hautbanhoff, an assertion that isn’t hard to believe once one hears the outcome. Having enthusiastically reviewed two of Gee’s earlier albums ( Swingin’ Live!, Swingin’ Away ), also recorded in concert, I was rather let down by Zurich. Not so much by the band, which recovers from an erratic start on “Trumpet Blues and Cantabile” to give the early-morning performance its best shot, but chiefly by the sound, which might best be described as unbalanced and out of focus.

In other words, the album sounds like it was recorded in a train station—the brass are too distant, the saxophones too coarse, the over-all resonance too desultory with only drummer Willard Dyson, bassist Matt Hughes and pianist Jon Cowherd coming through loud and clear. That’s a shame, as Gee leads a splendid neo-swing ensemble and the program itself is quite engaging with two charts by Frank Foster (“Blues in Frankie’s Flat,” “Shiny Stockings”), Ellington’s “One Man Dance” and “Harlem Airshaft,” Neal Hefti’s “Splanky,” Bill Elliott’s “Streamliner,” Ray Santos’s “Sunny Ray” and Edgar Sampson/Benny Goodman’s old chestnut “Stompin’ at the Savoy” among the highlights.

Still, I’ve heard worse sound on other albums (even some studio dates), and if the lack of clarity doesn’t turn you off, and you enjoy hearing a band that swings as hard as it can, there’s much to admire on Zurich as the ensemble settles down after “Cantabile” to gladden its largely Swiss audience, which responds enthusiastically. While the emphasis is on the ensemble, there are respectable solos by Cowherd, alto/clarinet Ed Pazant, tenors Mark Gross and Lance Bryant, veteran trombonist Eddie Bert and trumpeter Walt Szymanski, among others.

Clearly, the band is Swingin’ at Swing City, at least much of the time. Too bad the recording apparatus wasn’t able to keep pace. The album is certainly worth a listen but I’d recommend either of the above-mentioned two ahead of it, largely because the sound in both cases is appreciably better.

Track Listing: Trumpet Blues and Cantabile; Why Don

Personnel: George Gee, leader; Lance Bryant, Walt Szymanski, music directors; Walt Szymanski, Steve Wiseman, Fred Maxwell, James Zollar, trumpet; Matt Hong, alto sax; Ed Pazant, alto sax, clarinet; Mark Gross, tenor sax; Lance Bryant, tenor sax, vocal (8); Alex Harding, baritone sax; Charles Stephens, Eddie Bert, Brian Bonvissuto, trombone; Jack Jeffers, bass trombone, clave; Jon Cowherd, piano; Matt Hughes, bass; Willard Dyson, drums.

Style: Big Band


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