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Sammy Nestico and the SWR Big Band: Basie-cally Sammy

Jack Bowers By

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Some people are born to rule, others to serve. Sammy Nestico, it seems, was born to swing. From his early years as chief arranger for the US Air Force Airmen of Note and later for the irrepressible Count Basie Orchestra, Nestico prized swinging above all else, and that's no less true on Basie-cally Sammy, his warmhearted homage to the Count with Germany's superlative SWR Big Band, which marks their second collaboration in as many years. The album swings buoyantly from start to finish, thanks to Nestico's intrepid charts and the SWR's casual mastery of them.

There are a number of old favorites here—classic charts like "Sweet Georgia Brown, "88 Basie Street, "Fancy Pants, "Ja-Da, "The Heat's On, "Satin Doll, "It's a Wonderful World, "How Sweet It Is and "Wind Machine (the last a "bonus track recorded in concert)—and several charming newcomers as well, most notably "Time Stream, "No More, "Li'l Ol' Blue Note, "High Five and "Ain't Nobody Gettin' Younger (even though, at age 81, Nestico doesn't appear to be gettin' any older either). The band gives each one an exhilarating ride, swinging like Basie while sounding like SWR.

The ensemble comes out smokin' on Nestico's "Dimensions in Blue, which I believe was written for the Airmen of Note (if memory serves, it may still be their theme song), and unleashes more of its awesome firepower on the voluptuous "Georgia Brown. After introducing "Georgia," pianist Klaus Wagenleiter, one of a bevy of impressive soloists, is featured on the ambling "88 Basie Street, alto Klaus Graf on "Samantha, tenor Axel Kühn on "No More and "The Heat's On. Trumpeter Don Rader, who has either relocated from Australia or was imported especially for this date, is the flugel soloist on "Satin Doll and is heard again, on trumpet, with Wagenleiter, bassist Decebal Badila, alto Steffen Weber and Kühn (flute) on "How Sweet. Others who step up to the plate and swing for the fences are trombonists Marc Godfroid, Ian Cumming and Ernst Hutter; trumpeters Karl Farrent and Claus Reichstaller; tenor Andi Maile; baritone Pierre Paquette; guitarist Klaus-Peter Schöpfer, and drummer Holger Nell. Schöpfer fills rhythm guitarist Freddie Green's shoes nicely, while Nell has no problem sitting in for Sonny Payne, Butch Miles and Basie's other renowned timekeepers.

This is a dynamic blowing session, one you don't have to love Basie to appreciate. And when Sammy says he hasn't "had this much fun in years, it's a clear indication of his happiness with SWR's respect for his music, not to mention the ensemble's remarkable ability to transcribe it. This is "basie-cally big band jazz with an unequivocal kick, precisely the kind that the irrepressible Kid from Red Bank gave free rein to and ardently endorsed.


Track Listing: Dimensions in Blue; Sweet Georgia Brown; 88 Basie Street; Fancy Pants; Time Stream; No More; Li

Personnel: Sammy Nestico: music director; Felice Civitreale, Claus Reichstaller, Karl Farrent, Rudolf Reindl, Don Rader: trumpet; Klaus Graf: alto sax, clarinet, flute; Steffen Weber: alto sax, flute, alto flute; Axel K

Title: Basie-cally Sammy | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Hänssler Classic

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