The Portrait of Sammy shown on the cover of renowned composer/arranger Sammy Nestico's newest album shows a man grinning from ear to ear, clearly enjoying what he does and relishing the fruits of his enduring success. And why not? Sammy has been at the top of his game for nearly half a century, and he shows no signs of slowing down at age 81. Ten of the fifteen selections on Portrait were recorded last year with an orchestra comprised of world-class jazz musicians from southern California bolstered by a 26-piece string section, creating an ambiance reminiscent of the Netherlands Metropole Orchestra.
Even with strings attached, Nestico seldom forgets to swing, nor did he do so in winning four Grammy Awards for the incomparable Count Basie Orchestra while serving as the Count's chief arranger some three decades ago. On the other hand, the strings do little to enhance the environment, and (my opinion, judge for yourself) Sammy's purpose would have been better served without them (and with a tad less reverb as well). For proof, listen to "Freckle Face, "Time Stream, or "Kiji Takes a Ride! (no strings), "A Warm Breeze (recorded in '04 with Germany's superb SWR Big Band), "Satin 'n' Glass (transcribed in 1985 with Rob McConnell's Boss Brass minus Rob), or the album's "bonus track, the groovy "88 Basie Street, gleaned from the '78 album Dark Orchid to showcase the late Pete Jolly on piano. The personnel on that track, by the way, is mind-blowingWarren Luening, Conte Candoli, and Snooky Young in the trumpet section; Bob Cooper, Bud Shank, and Jack Nimitz among the reeds; Bill Watrous on trombone; and Jolly, Chuck Berghofer and Louie Bellson in the rhythm section.
There's a second version of "Dark Orchid (which opens the album), this one recorded in 2000 under its alternate name, "Out of the Night, and featuring solos by flutist Hubert Laws, guitarist Paul Jackson Jr., drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and pianist Randy Kerber. There are no strings (or vocalists), and I found this earlier version the more agreeable because of it. That session also produced the lovely "Lisette, on which soprano Dan Higgins glistens. "Freckle Face, which spotlights trumpeter Luening, is from the Basie book, as are "Warm Breeze, "Time Stream, "Satin 'n' Glass and "Basie Street. Dick Nash's elegant trombone is front and center on the tender "Katy, written for Basie's wife, who had recently passed away. Guido Basso's warm flugelhorn garnishes "Satin 'n' Glass while Tom Scott is showcased on EWI on "Dark Orchid and "Orient Express, tenor sax (with guitarist Dean Parks) on "A Cool Breeze. Tenor Pete Christlieb complements Luening on "Tangerine, pianist Tom Ranier on "Veronique, Luening and bassist Trey Henry on the bustling "Time Stream.
Given his many successes over so many years, Sammy Nestico has every reason to smile. And if his colorful Portrait isn't entirely blemish-free, he need make no apology. He has earned the right to paint it his way. Much of what is presented here is splendid. My aversion to strings, which Sammy evidently deems necessary, may not be shared by other listenersand as they are conspicuous on only five tracks, that's hardly enough to dampen one's pleasure. In sum, a handsome Portrait that any jazz lover should be pleased to hang in his or her music library.
Dark Orchid; Freckle Face; Tangerine; Veronique; Swingin' on the Orient Express; Lisette; Time Stream; Katy; A Cool Breeze; It's My Turn; Kiji Takes a Ride!; A Warm Breeze; Out of the Night (Dark Orchid); Satin 'n' Glass; 88 Basie Street.
Personnel: Sammy Nestico, composer, arranger. Tracks 1-5, 7-11 Dan Higgins, Gary Foster, Pete Christlieb, Tom Scott, Gene Cipriano, reeds; Gary Grant, Wayne Bergeron, Rick Baptist, Warren Luening, trumpet; Charley Loper, Andy Martin, Dick Nash, Phil Teele, trombone; Tommy Johnson, tuba; John Lorge, Jerry Folsom, Murray Adler, Dan Kelley, Stephanie O'Keefe, French horn; Tom Ranier, keyboards; Dean Parks, Dennis Budimir (5), guitars; Trey Henry, bass; Vinnie Colaiuta, drums; Emil Richards, Alex Acuna, percussion; Endre Granat, Armen Garabedian, Berg Garabedian, Natalie Leggett, Bruce Dukov, Tiffany Hu, Charles Bisharat, Roberto Cani, Mario DeLeon, Songa Lee, Phillip Levy, Alyssa Park, Sara Parkins, Katia Popov, Sarah Thornblade, Josefina Vergara, violin; Simon Oswell, Matthew Funes, Samuel Formicola, Roland Kato, Darrin McCann, Daniel Seidenberg, viola; Cecilia Tsan, Larry Corbett, Armen Ksajikian, Miguel Martinez, cello; Don Shelton, Ian Freebairn, Linda Harmon, Jennifer Barnes, vocals. Tracks 5, 13 Dan Higgins, Gary Foster, Ernie Watts, Pete Christlieb, Hubert Laws, Jack Nimitz, reeds; Gary Grant, Warren Luening, Rick Baptist, Oscar Brashear, Wayne Bergeron, Jerry Hay, trumpet; Charley Loper, George Bohannon, Bill Watrous, Bill Reichenbach, Reggie Young, trombone; Jerry Folsom, Brad Warnaar, Greg Williams, French horn; Randy Kerber, Greg Philinganes, keyboards; Paul Jackson Jr., guitar; Neil Steubenhaus, bass; Emil Richards, Paulhino Da Costa, percussion. Track 12 Klaus Graf, Axel Kuhn, Jorg Kaufman, Andi Maile, Pierre Paquette, reeds; Felice Civitareale, Claus Reichstaller, Karl Farrent, Rudolf Reindl, trumpet; Ernst Hutter, Marc Godfroid, Ian Cumming, Georg Maus, trombone; Klaus Wagenleiter, piano; Klaus-Peter Schöpfer, guitar; Decebal Badila, bass; Holger Nell, drums. Track 14 Jerry Toth, Harvey Kogen, Eugene Amaro, Don Englert, Tony Toth, reeds; Arnie Chycoski, Erich Traugott, Dave Woods, Guido Basso, Sam Noto, trumpet; Ian McDougall, Jerry Johnson, Alistair Kay, Bob Livingston, Ernie Pattison, trombone; Bruce Harvey, Jimmy Dale, keyboards; Ed Bickert, guitar; Dave Young, bass; Marty Morell, drums. Track 15 Bud Shank, Tommy Newsom, Bob Hardaway, Bob Cooper, Jack Nimitz, reeds; Gary Grant, Warren Luening, Conte Candoli, Snooky Young, trumpet; Bill Watrous, Tom King, Chauncey Welsh, Tommy Johnson, trombone; Pete Jolly, piano; Bob Bain, guitar; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Louie Bellson, drums