The George Gee Orchestra is as taut and bouncy as a Marine bootcamp bed inspection, and every inch as disciplined as well. Gee has been leading swing bands for 35 years now, and the very generous palette of 19 songs (!) clocking in at about 75 minutes (!!) in Swing Makes You Happy (and it does, it really does!) leaves no one doubting his skills and bravura. The G. Gee Swing Orchestra isn't just a klatch of highly talented players but an aggregate of swing bad-asses, amply illustrated in the very first cut, David Gibson's Comin' Home. And, therein, y'all, lies one of the reasons for the cutting edge of the disc: Gibson not only contributed 5 original tunes but arranged the entire affair as well.
One of the guy's attributes is a fine talent for contrasting and even cohering emphasis and subtlety while Gee keeps the band on its toes and perfectly timed. Ah, but Gibson's also a player, a trombone tootler, and so his acumen isn't restricted just to pushing notes around on sheets of staved paper but also involves a deeper sense of things experientially, straight from the front lines. The band completely absorbs his every ink-stained nuance and then hones all the staples and complements to a bright polish, as though the songs were their own. That, my friends, is the sign of a writer-arranger who knows what the hell he's doing, Gee working with him hand in glove.
Midnight in a Madhouse has elements of Raymond Scott to it, a bit of the Marx Bros., and Benny Goodman's bounce. Then there's the take on one of my favorite modern standards, Ahbez's Nature Boy, with John Dokes' richly imbued baritone vocals, a guy who should be featured in movie musicals 'cause his approach weds the Gatsby 1930s to the 2000s. Andy Gravish puts the top end to things in a killer strident trumpet solo zipping about like a honey bee, after which the rest of the horns bed the song back into whirling melodic extensions. Then there's Dokes' opposite, the sweet and energetically encanting Hilary Gardner, whose dulcet tones carry more than a little of the sort of seduction that'll brook no naysaying, as in her recitation of Sweet Pumpkin. In that track, you fully understand she's out to get ya and will definitely not take 'No!' for an answer. You also clearly intuit that you won't mind any of it one little bit.
No less an authoritative venue than DownBeat declared Gardner 'an artist to watch in 2015' and, as always, the evaluation is dead-on, as she's loaded to her lovely teeth with talent and highly refined delivery…and may I mention that if you're an NYC denizen, you can see her, Dokes, and all and sundry in their residency at the SWING46 Jazz & Dinner Club in Times Square? Man o man, if they were here in SoCal, I'd be there in a hot L.A. minute! Seriously, this is an ensemble that brings back the highest pitch of the grand old days. I doubt there's a better sui generis band in America…and most likely Europe too.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2015, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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