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The George Gee Big Band: Settin' the Pace

Jack Bowers By

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George Gee, big band jazz's answer to the Energizer Bunny, just keeps going and going and going...

The diminutive New York-based dynamo leads at least two and perhaps as many as four bands. For the neo-swing crowd there's the Jump Jive and Wailers; for dancers there's the Make Believe Ballroom Orchestra; for those who lean toward the legendary Big Band Era there's the George Gee Swing Orchestra (which, when last heard from, was Swingin' in Swing City Zurich ), and now comes the seventeen-piece George Gee Big Band, Settin' the Pace for those who prefer their jazz on the contemporary side of the scale with an album devoted to the compositions and arrangements of former Count Basie stalwart Frank Foster—and on Gee's own label too!

There aren't many arrangers who can brighten a band better than Foster, and even though he composed only three of the album's dozen selections ("Settin' the Pace," "Ready Now That You Are GG," "Bass in Yo' Face"), each one is a gem, as are his arrangements of such crowd-pleasers as Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood," Johnny Green's "Out of Nowhere," Mario Bauza's "Mambo Inn," E.A. Swan's "When Your Lover Has Gone" (featuring lead trumpeter/music director Walt Szymanski) and Charlie Parker's "Scrapple from the Apple."

Foster calls his music "happy swing," and there can be no more suitable words to describe it. Even though he has been confined to a wheelchair since suffering a stroke, Foster's still happy, and what's more he's still swinging, as anyone who listens to this buoyant studio date can readily appreciate. Also swinging are a number of forceful soloists, including tenor Michael Hashim, alto Ed Pazant, baritone Howard Johnson, trombonist Robert Trowers, trumpeter Mark McGowan, guitarist Joe Cohn, pianist Jon Cowherd and bassist Daryl Hall (a standout on "Bass in Yo' Face").

To ice the cake, Gee has enlisted the services of one of New York's finest, Grammy-nominated vocalist Carla Cook, who further enhances three of Foster's radiant charts—"Lover Come Back to Me," an up-tempo "Autumn Leaves," and Ray Noble's "The Very Thought of You." The band's resident "singer," tenor saxophonist Lance Bryant, takes a pleasing turn on his gritty arrangement of Dawn Hampton's down-and-dirty soliloquy, "I Don't Want to Learn How to Sing the Blues."

Even though Gee's band isn't Basie, two of his sidemen—trumpeter Shawn Edmonds and saxophonist Marshall McDonald—are members of the current Basie orchestra, and everyone else responds with alacrity to Foster's ebullient music, producing a remarkably snug fit. Of course, it's hard to go astray playing anything that Foster writes, and he gives the band a pretty wide comfort zone in which to operate. Everyone takes advantage, and the result is a sharp, consistently swinging slice of contemporary big band jazz.


Track Listing: Out of Nowhere; Settin' the Pace; Lover Come Back to Me; In a Sentimental Mood; Mambo Inn; Ready Now That You Are GG; Bass in Yo' Face; The Very Thought of You; When Your Lover Has Gone; Autumn Leaves; I Don't Want to Learn to Sing the Blues; Scrapple from the Apple (59:31)

Personnel: George Gee, leader; Frank Foster, composer, arranger; Ed Pazant, Marshall McDonald, Michael Hashim, Lance Bryant, Howard Johnson, reeds; Walt Szymanski, Steve Wiseman, Shawn Edmonds, Mark McGowan, trumpet; Charles Stephens, Robert Trowers, Eddie Bert, Jack Jeffers, trombone; Jon Cowherd, piano; Joe Cohn, guitar; Daryl Hall, bass; Willard Dyson, drums; Renato Thoms, percussion.

Title: Settin' the Pace | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: GJazz Records

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