It may seem to some that "little" big bands made their debut during the current swing dance revival. Not so! Actually, some of the new "retro" swing bands are caricatures of their predecessors. There were small bands before and during the big band swing era, John Kirby's being one of the best. In the early eighties, Dick Johnson, who now leads the Artie Shaw Orchestra, started the Swing Shift in Boston and in 1989 Gregg Gelb founded the Gregg Gelb Swing Band in North Carolina. What these two bands and others like them have in common are top-flight swinging musicians playing tight and bright arrangements that allow a few horns to produce, or suggest, a big band sound. They also respect, rather than play with, the authentic swing sound. We who were there during the big band days know the difference.
This album, the band's fourth, was conceived as a soundtrack for "War Zone," a documentary video about German U-boat activity off the Carolina coast in 1942. The swing band remotes on radio at that time not only lifted the morale of the coastline residents but were also listened to by the German submariners! The crisp and original arrangements, mainly swingers, are by Gelb who gets that rich sound with his tenor and clarinet plus an alto, trombone, trumpet and a driving rhythm section. Most of the tracks include vocals by his wife, Kathy Gelb. Her warm, swinging and 1940's voice strongly suggests the possibility of reincarnation!
Among the instrumental highlights are "Memories of You", a feature for the mellow Gelb clarinet, and the band's interesting take on "Anchors Aweigh." On "Moonlight Serenade." a lone clarinet evokes the Miller sax section while on "Marie" the combination of Kathy Gelb's voice, Tommy Smith's trombone,and that hot trumpet chorus by Jay Meachum will have you believing you hear the band singing behind the vocalist.
This CD gives nostalgia a good name.