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May 2009

John Burnett Swing Orchestra
West of State Street/East of Harlem
Delmark Records

Chicago bandleader/broadcaster John Burnett has switched labels on his second album in the past eight years, but the sound and personnel are very much as they were on his Swingin’ in the Windy City CD in 2000, reminiscent of the Basie Band and its contemporaries during the ’50s. The resemblance grows a little too close for comfort when the Burnett Swingers reprise the Count’s famed “April in Paris” chart and trumpeter Terry Connell reproduces Thad Jones’ “Pop Goes the Weasel” shtick note-for-note at the top of his solo. Guess that’s the result of critics not crying foul when the Ella and Basie chart for “’Deed I Do” was swiped for the Windy City album.

Vocalist Frieda Lee doesn’t sound nearly as velvety now on the innocuous “Anytime, Anyday, Anywhere,” but she can share the blame for the shortcomings of “Ten Cents a Dance” with Burnett, who prods the tempo too fast for the lyric and misses the drama. More fun is the Satchmo imitation by trumpeter Tony Pons on “Hello, Dolly,” where I suspect guitarist John Moran has picked up a banjo in the background, and plenty of space is set aside for solos by Bryant Scott on trombone, Bob Frankich on clarinet, and special guest Randy Sandke.

Sandke graciously perks up six other tracks on this live recording at Fitzgerald’s with his mercurial trumpet stylings, most notably “Night in Tunisia,” “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue” and “Little Jazz Boogie.” Ensemble sound is consistently strong and vividly engineered. Altoist Nick Mazarella is the most consistent soloist in the brash sax section, nicely counterbalancing Mark Burnell’s light Basie-ish touch at the keyboard.

Originally published in May 2009
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