Music

George Gee Big Band: Settin' the Pace - the Music of Frank Foster

Robert R. Calder

George Gee Big Band

Settin' the Pace - the Music of Frank Foster

Label: Gjazz
US Release Date: 2004-09-21
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

Since one of the sessions this music was recorded on happened to coincide with my birthday earlier this year (some decades still lie between me and my own 75th!), I might as well award the cake to the tenor saxophonist and arranger who was invited to conduct this band through a selection of his own arrangements just a couple of dozen weeks back. He does not, I have to say, play here.

George Gee runs one of a number of big bands which, unlike during the 1930s and 1940s, don't tour ballrooms across America. Such studio bands exist when members (at least some of them) aren't touring, which some of them are lucky to do as members of the few big bands with big enough names to be commercially feasible. There are two members of the touring (ghost) Count Basie band in this ensemble, of which Frank Foster became leader after a long career, playing in and writing music for the ensemble(s) Basie reconvened from the 1950s on.

The one member of the band on this set who I've seen a few times is actually sitting in for a band member who couldn't make these sessions, or the gig at Birdland which preceded them. Howard Johnson is the substitute, opening his one sizeable solo like a less flowingly phrased Joe Temperley (B-I-G sound on baritone saxophone). I've seen Johnson in big bands with Dizzy Gillespie (who did have a "permanent" big band while it lasted, and which was reassembled for tours). Johnson was also with McCoy Tyner, who toured quite a while back with an ensemble he ran in New York. I also know Johnson from recordings with Gil Evans. He's a big man, and not slumming.

I also heard, on tour, the "Duke Ellington" band over which the grandson Paul Ellington presided, no more of a ghost band on that occasion than is the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, the most official and most regularly proficient current big band I can think of. I also heard a pretty good Scottish big band last year in the miniature cathedral city of Dunblane, Scotland. The baritone saxophonist looked about eighteen, and one tenor saxophonist had actually toured in dance bands during the late 1940s. This was no amateur fumbleband. It found fun by actually playing bloody well. Thus also George Gee's band, which visitors to the precincts of its playing venues might bear in mind. I speak with good credentials. I loathe Gl*nn M*ll*r.

Mr. Gee supposes Frank Foster musically on a par with Ellington and Copeland. Aaron Copeland? Actually he's neither, but one presumes that Mr. Gee is, as Frank Foster says, "a happy cat" and you don't need to be Ellington to be a composer/arranger worth hearing. Here he manages a muscular sort of sound, like late Basie, and like the bands led by Illinois Jacquet and Buck Clayton.

The repertoire is a mixture of standards: "Out of Nowhere", "In a Sentimental Mood" (beginning with a clever Ellington-pastiche), and "When Your Lover Has Gone" (fluegelhorn from Walt Szymansky). All the charts, save one by the tenor Lance Bryant on which he sings, are Foster's. There are some nice compositions of Foster's like "Settin' the Pace", on which Howard Johnson has his blow, and Eddie Bert participates in a three-trombone rumble-up with the slightly lesser known Charles Stephens and Jack Jeffers. Joe Cohn, excellent guitarist of pedigree (his tenor saxophone father, alas now departed, wrote some mighty charts in the past) has a decent chance in "Ready Now That You Are, GG", and the bassist Daryl Hall seems to have had "Bass in Yo' Face" as his farewell piece, before beginning "relocating to Europe". Robert Trowers does nice work on trombone, John Cowherd is a very good band pianist, and the singer Carla Cook -- who has a mature rather than youthful style -- has a Grammy nomination. Michael Hashim, Ed Pazant, Marshall McDonald solo -- see the website for names I've missed.

It's very nice to know that bands like this exist, and really can and do play. And, certainly for the charts of his own compositions, and his direction of the band (which have some of his charts in their regular book), this is a nice addition to Frank Foster's discography.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image