Erwin Lehn Orchestra: Let 'Em Swing!

Jack Bowers By

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Erwin Lehn Orchestra: Let 'Em Swing! Let 'Em Swing! surveys the early years (1951-65) of bandleader/vibraphonist Erwin Lehn's groundbreaking Südfunk-Tanzorchester, which continues today as the world-class SWR Big Band. Lehn led the band for forty years until his retirement at the end of 1991. The orchestra then became known as the SDR Big Band, and later the SWR.

Lehn's entire career as leader of the orchestra is documented in a superb two-disc set, 40 Jahre Jazz, on the IRS label, and in another two-disc set, 50 Jahre, on CK Records. The first covers the years 1951-91, the second 1959-2000. Even though Lehn's orchestra was mostly German, a few American expats found their way there, including trumpeters Don Rader and Lee Katzman and trombonists Bobby Burgess and Joe Gallardo.

The band also welcomed a number of eminent guest artists over the years. Those appearing on 50 Jahre include trumpeters Maynard Ferguson, Ack van Rooyen, Chet Baker, Don Ellis, Arturo Sandoval, Clark Terry and Bobby Shew; trombonists Rob McConnell, Frank Rosolino and Kai Winding; saxophonists Phil Woods, Sal Nistico, Frank Foster, Buddy Tate, Tony Scott and Bob Mintzer; clarinetist Buddy DeFranco, guitarist Barney Kessel and harmonica star Toots Thielemans.

Returning to the album at hand, it shows that Lehn's Tanzorchester began as a quasi-dance band with jazz overtones, performing mostly its own arrangements of American favorites. The exceptions are Walter Dobschinski's "Dob's Boogie, Josef Huber's "I Like Basie, Horst Jankowski/Bernd Rabe's "Basically Cute (loosely based on the Neal Hefti composition) and Ernst Simon's "Let 'Em Swing. There are features along the way for Jankowski, trumpeters Horst Fischer and Georg Ernszt, trombonist Ernst Mosch and drummer Hermann Mutschler, and spirited duels for trumpet and tenor sax on "Jumpin' with Symphony Sid. Fischer does his best Harry James impression on "Ciribiribin, "Stormy Weather and "Carnival, and even channels Maynard Ferguson on Fred Poliakin's "Hot Canary.

While the orchestra is quite good, the sound is variable, and no better than adequate on the earlier pre-'60s monaural tracks, while the album focuses (with a few departures) on the band's commercial side. For a more well-rounded (and better recorded) likeness of Lehn's Südfunk-Tanzorchester, try 40 Jahre Jazz. This one's mainly for the historians and completists.

Track Listing: Opus One; Lester Leaps In; Ciribiribin; Drum Boogie; You Are Too Beautiful; Jumpin

Personnel: Erwin Lehn: leader, vibraphone; Heinz Abendschon, Franz Bummerl, Georg Ernszt, Horst Fischer, Konrad Jackel, Georg Kraft, Eberhard Schmidt-Schulz: trumpet; Werner Baumgart, Fritz Dautel, Joki Freund, Manfred Hoffbauer, Ernst Machwitz, Bernd Rabe, Berthold Schramme, Karl-Heinz Tischendorf, Walter Vogel, Gerald Weinskopf: reeds; Rudi Becher, Juraj Cukac, Joseph G

Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: CK Records | Style: Big Band

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