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George Gee Swing Orchestra: Swing Makes You Happy!

Dan Bilawsky By

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Swing Makes You Happy! isn't just an album title: it's a mantra and belief system that guides the George Gee Swing Orchestra, a little big band intent on rekindling the ear's love affair with music associated with a bygone era.

Gee has been in the big band business for more than three decades, but it's his eighteen-years-and-counting residency at New York City's Swing46 Jazz and Supper Club that has afforded him the opportunity to fine tune and tighten things up while playing for appreciative audiences. And while the orchestra carries his name, equal credit for this group's sound today goes to trombonist/musical director David Gibson. He's made his own name via a series of albums for Nagel Heyer and Posi-Tone, essaying funk, bop, post-bop, and more along the way, but his unabashed love for old school swing wins out here. He arranged all nineteen numbers that appear on this album, making this band of nine sound twice its size at times, and his writing is loyal to the past without coming off as dated.

In true throwback fashion, most of the material presented on Swing Makes You Happy! is short and to the point. Gee may not have the recording length limitations that his big band forefathers had, but he still works like he does. Eighteen of these nineteen tracks come in around or under the five minute mark, with some being considerably shorter; only the penultimately-placed take on Herbie Hancock's "A Tribute To Someone" exceeds six minutes, which is still hardly lengthy by today's standards. Some pieces showcase the whole band and a few notable soloists ("Comin' Home" and "Bedrock"), some serve as swing skeletons to support a single player ("I Knows"), and others allow vocalist John Dokes' baritone to shine ("I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water") or help to accentuate the beautiful curves in Hilary Gardner's voice ("Sweet Pumpkin" and "No Moon At All").

As small big bands go, this one has it all, with distinct solo personalities that also manage to mesh well together. Baritone saxophonist Anthony Lustig is a force to be reckoned with, delivering solos like he's walking the bar ("The Road To Roscoe's") and confidently holding down the low end; tenor saxophonist Michael Hashim brings a sly sound to the fore when it's time for him to stand out ("It Was A Very Good Year"); and alto saxophonist Eddie Pazant's pinched proclamations are real attention-grabbers ("Comin' Home"). Then there's the lone trombone of Gibson, the strong trumpets of Freddie Hendrix and Andy Gravish, and the effortlessly swinging rhythm section of pianist Steve Einerson, bassist Marcus McLaurine, and drummer Willard Dyson to contend with. Together, and with the vocalists and Gee out front, they make music that sings the virtues of swing for all to hear.

Track Listing: Comin’ Home; Bedrock; Lindyhoppers’ Delight; Sweet Pumpkin; No Moon at All; I Knows; I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water; Baby Won’t You Please Come Home; Midnight in a Madhouse; The Road to Roscoe’s; If I Were a Bell; It Was a Very Good Year; That’s No Joke; You Say You Care; Hash Mash; Nature Boy; Evenin’; A Tribute to Someone; Blue Minor.

Personnel: George Gee: leader; David Gibson: music director, composer, arranger, trombone; Andy Gravish: trumpet; Freddie Hendrix: trumpet; Ed Pazant: alto sax; Michael Hashim: tenor sax; Anthony Lustig: baritone sax; Steve Einerson: piano; Marcus McLaurine: bass; Willard Dyson: drums; Hilary Gardner: vocals; John Dokes: vocals.

Title: Swing Makes You Happy! | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Rondette Jazz

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