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Al Sanada Big Band: Playing Sammy Nestico

Jack Bowers By

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Here's a big band that literally "walks" right into your heart, thanks to the peerless Sammy Nestico's groove-laden charts and a stellar cast of well-tempered West Coast pros who knowingly toss 'em off without breaking a decent-sized sweat. So, as Butch Cassidy wondered about the posse pursuing him and the Sundance Kid, who are these guys? If names like Christlieb, Jolly, Andy Martin, Sal Lozano, Kim Richmond, Chuck Berghofer, Ron Stout, Alex Iles, Gregg Field, Bruce Otto or Wayne Bergeron don't ring a bell, you may need a refresher course in Big Bands 101. While the others in the band are perhaps less well-known, they are certainly no less capable. The least familiar name in the lineup may be that of the leader. Al Sanada, a saxophonist (Stan Kenton, Harry James), former major league baseball player (St. Louis Cardinals) and professional boxer (11 wins in 12 bouts, all by knockout), has been fronting his own ensemble for more than 40 years. He wanted the band's second recording (the first was released more than a decade ago) to be special, so he engaged one of the most celebrated big-band arrangers in the business (Nestico) and amplified half a dozen of his long-time regulars with the best sidemen he could find. As a leader, Sanada subscribes to Woody Herman's sage advice: "Hire the best players, give 'em a downbeat, and get out of their way." And that's about all that need be done with this cadre of seasoned veterans whose s.q. (swing quotient) approaches 9.0 on the Richter scale. The band starts walkin' immediately on "Blues Machine" (pushed along by Jolly, Berghofer and Field's electrifying intro) and doesn't slacken the pace until it arrives safely home nearly an hour later at the end of Sammy's sizzling flag-waver, "The Heat's On." Along the way are marvelous renditions of several well-crafted Nestico originals ("Small Talk," "Samantha," "88 Basie Street," "Pleasin'") and arrangements ("Fascinating Rhythm," "Satin Doll," "It's a Wonderful World," "Smack Dab in the Middle," "Who's Sorry Now"). Soloists are first-class - especially Christlieb, Jolly, Martin, Stout and Lozano - and the ensemble as a whole manages to sound relaxed and easygoing while generating abundant heat and enunciating phrases with an almost machine-like precision (for an example, dig the formidable trumpet/trombone soli on "Fascinating Rhythm"). Much of the credit for this must go to Jolly, Berghofer and Field who know how to kick a band hard at any tempo with only the merest suggestion that they are firmly in command. '98 has been a banner year for big-band releases, and this is beyond a doubt one of the most listener-friendly sessions to date.

Track Listing:

The Blues Machine; Small Talk; Fascinating Rhythm; Satin Doll; It's a Wonderful World; Smack Dab in the Middle; Samantha; Who's Sorry Now; 88 Basie Street; Pleasin'; The Heat's On (58:24).

Personnel:

Wayne Bergeron, Ron Stout, Darrell Gardner, Kevin Richardson, Gary Holopoff, trumpets; Pete Christlieb, Bill Baker, Sal Lozano, Alden Waldow, Tom McClure, Jay Migliori, Ernie Delfante, Kim Richmond, saxophones; Andy Martin, Alex Iles, Bob Smith, Bruce Otto, Charlie Morillas, trombones; Pete Jolly, piano; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Gregg Field, drums.

Title: Playing Sammy Nestico | Year Released: 1998


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