Grand Masters of Jazz
Outfits like Swing Fever exist all over the country, mini-neo-big-bands dedicated to preserving the music of Ellington, Goodman and the like. Most of them dig into the trusty Great American Songbook, haul out tried-and-true arrangements and settle for pleasing a disappearing generation. What sets San Francisco’s Swing Fever apart and allows them to attract the likes of the guests featured on Grand Masters of Jazz—flugelhornist Clark Terry, clarinetist Buddy DeFranco, vibist Terry Gibbs and singer Jackie Ryan—is the level of musicianship and ingenuity involved. Swing Fever may nominally peddle nostalgia, but they don’t treat this music as dead history. They work hard, inject contemporary elements and, while holding on to the basics, bring the music into the present.
Founded 35 years ago and still led by trombonist Bryan Gould, the basic horns-and-rhythm octet is at times expanded to accommodate the chosen material and visiting artists. This set, recorded at various locations between 1998 and 2001—the audio CD is augmented by two DVDs—pushes the contributions of the marquee guests, all of whom ace their assigned spots. Ryan and Gibbs elevate the understated, shuffling “Body and Soul”; Terry’s horn solo on “I Want a Little Girl” mingles sweetly with Harold Dudune’s clarinet; and DeFranco’s own clarinet is ablaze on a fast-paced “Speak Low.”
But truthfully, Swing Fever’s core personnel more than hold their own. Guitarist Jim Putman’s lines are sleek, economical and just right for this pianoless group, and the in-house horn section makes for a solid, united front while allowing enough space for its components to shine.