How do you prefer your swing music? Stripped down and chart-topping or full-bore and road-tested? The Fairfax-based ensemble Swing Shift clearly prefers the latter style. That's why their new CD boasts charts by veteran big band arrangers Neal Hefti and Sammy Nestico along with plenty of freshly scored material that evokes the days when dance halls and dance bands nearly always came in one size: large.
Certainly no one could accuse Swing Shift of sounding undernourished -- 18 members strong, the band projects a rich, vibrant sound. For proof, check out the charging, horn-powered "It Don't Mean A Thing," the first of many examples of the band's allegiance to the likes of Duke Ellington and Count Basie. Especially Basie. Dave Boleyn, a singer who can recall the brand of swagger and swing favored by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Bobby Darin without overdoing it, pops up here and there, always with a song worthy of reprising, whether it's "Come Fly With Me," "The Best Is Yet To Come" or "Beyond The Sea."
For all its ensemble punch and power, though, Swing Shift also engages in more subtle expressions of swing traditions, freshening "It's Oh, So Nice" with a sinuous weave of reeds or engaging in some rhythmic soft-shoeing on Hefti's arrangement of the Basie classic "Cute." The band's "April in Paris," the big Basie hit, is full of luster and light.
There are also plenty of soloists to enhance the charts. Among them are trumpeter Mike Barber and reedmen Mike Layland and Dennis McAfee, who help polish "String of Pearls," and trumpeter Garry Henson and pianist Dave Anderson, who put a shine on Fats Waller's "Stealin' Apples." While other groups jump aboard the retro swing bandwagon in hot pursuit of chart success, Swing Shift summons familiar sounds from the past with winning affection and fidelity.
Appearing Friday at the Birchmere. To hear a free Sound Bite from Swing Shift, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8112. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)