The George Gee Swing Orchestra may just now be getting around to recording a full on holiday extravaganza with their buoyant, wildly intoxicating Winter Wonderland collection, but legions of fans on the New York swing scene have been blessed with the busy, bustling ensemble’s frolic, wit and soulfully arranged brass energy since the early 90s via their 26-year and counting residency at Time Square’s SWING46 Jazz Club.
Under the leadership of Gee and the masterful arrangements of trombonist and music director David Gibson, the bold, feisty and hard swinging tinsel filled adventures here are so spicy and fire-filled at times that it’s hard to fathom that the swing orchestra recording here is only a 10-piece group led by six horns. The best example of this energy – and sure to get your festivities rolling, even before Thanksgiving – starts the set off with a blast.
It’s such a startlingly joyous and sassy twist on the oft-heard title track that it demands a title shift to “Winter Wonderland Mambo.” When music consumers see a set list full of standards and no originals, they may naturally be skeptical that they’ll hear an arrangement they’ve never fathomed before that will knock their stocking stuffers off. Gee, Gibson and company give it all they’ve got on the whimsical, Art Blakey-esque hard bop through “What Child Is This?”, a sultry, midtempo swirl through “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” that offers ample space for killer solos (most notably, by Gibson, and altoist Anthony Nelson Jr.) and a hard stomping, punchily ringing “Jingle Bells.”
Interwoven through those sizzling instrumentals are five deeply soulful tunes led by vocalist John Dokes that form the true emotional core of the set. In addition to nine new tracks, Winter Wonderland features a charming duet by Dokes and Hilary Gardner on “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” which was recorded with a more intimate ensemble and released as a single in 2014.