Those who’ve been wondering, if indeed there are any, will be pleased to learn that Sammy Nestico hasn’t lost his touch. Now in his seventy–eighth year, Count Basie’s former Grammy–winning chief arranger can still write persuasive charts that swing at the drop of a high–hat, which he does more often than not on This Is the Moment, Sammy’s first album under his own name since Sea Breeze reissued 1985’s Night Flight (with four tracks from his earlier Black Orchid ) several years ago.
Any new enterprise with Sammy’s signature on it is warmly welcomed within these precincts, and when he lessens the impact of an arrangement by introducing strings (“Chelsea Bridge,” “Shoreline Drive,” “Where Is Love?”), skewers a tempo (“Beyond the Blue Horizon”) or employs atypical instruments (EWI, synthesizer, celeste and so on) one must make allowances, as Sammy more than transcends those anomalies with such Nestico–inspired masterworks as “Swingin’ on the Orient Express,” “Free Flight,” “The Blues Machine” (recorded by the Basie band in 1983), “This Is the Moment,” “A Minor Affair” and “Toni” (written for his friend, singer Toni Tennille). Even with strings attached, “Chelsea Bridge” (commissioned by the USAF Airmen of Note in 1992) and “Where Is Love?” (from the Broadway musical Oliver! ) are warmly engaging, thanks in part to luminous solos by tenor Pete Christlieb (“Bridge”) and flugel Warren Luening (“Love”).
After opening with bamboo flutes and a Chinese gong, “Orient Express” slides easily into a swinging groove behind crisp solos by trumpeter Luening and Tom Scott on EWI. “Free Flight” (solos by alto Gary Foster, trombonist Andy Martin, Scott on tenor, vibraphonist Emil Richards) offers more of the same before Nestico turns to the classics with “Kiji Takes a Ride,” a loose–limbed charmer adapted from Sergei Prokofiev’s “Lt. Kije Suite” that showcases drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, Scott on EWI and Rick Baptist on piccolo trumpet. Flutist Hubert Laws (so good to hear him again) smolders on the marvelous standard “Green Dolphin Street,” which is sandwiched between “Chelsea Bridge” and “Blues Machine” (the latter featuring nimble solos by Christlieb, Martin, bassist Trey Henry, alto Dan Higgins and pianist Tom Ranier).
With “This Is the Moment,” Nestico writes, he “returns to [his] Basie roots” with a smoothly swaying medium–tempo blues that has the Count’s name written all over it. The tasteful solos are by Luening, Higgins and Ranier. “Blue Horizon,” which follows, enfolds tight ensemble passages and probing statements by Martin, Ranier and Scott (on tenor) but — pardon us, Sammy — the shuffling pseudo–rock tempo seems ill–advised on a song that is so buoyant it almost swings itself. “Toni” and “A Minor Affair,” which follow, are more successful (in spite of faded endings on both), the first including snappy statements by Luening (flugel), Laws and Ranier (synthesizer), the second featuring Higgins, Christlieb, Luening (trumpet) and Ranier (piano). “Shoreline Drive,” composed in the ’70s for the Black Orchid album, is pleasant but no more than that with congenial ad–libs by Laws, trombonist Dick Nash and Ranier again, this time on electric piano.
The “Disney Salute,” written to mark the twenty–fifth anniversary of Disney World, winds things up (or down, depending on one’s point of view), opening on a serious note with the familiar Mickey Mouse theme before shifting gaily into one of our favorite Disney tunes, Ray Gilbert / Allie Wrubel’s “Zip–a–Dee–Dooh–Dah,” with Christlieb’s assertive tenor racing the ensemble to a split–second conclusion. The band, as always, is letter–perfect and in the pocket. As Sammy writes in his brief liner notes, “If your music doesn’t sound good when these musicians play it, then there’s something wrong with the music!” Apart from the few minor and forgivable lapses already noted there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the music or the musicians on This Is the Moment, another clear–cut winner for composer / arranger par excellence Sammy Nestico.
Sammy Nestico, arranger, conductor; Gary Foster, Dan Higgins, Pete Christlieb, Tom Scott, Gene Cipriano, Hubert Laws, reeds; Gary Grant, Rick Baptist, Wayne Bergeron, Warren Luening, trumpet; Dick Nash, Charlie Loper, Andy Martin Phil Teele, trombone; Tommy Johnson, tuba; Tom Ranier, keyboards; Dennis Budimir, guitar; Trey Henry, bass; Vinnie Colaiuta, drums; Emil Richards, vibes, percussion; Alex Acuna, percussion; John Lorge, Jerry Folsom, Brad Warnaar, French horn; Bruce Dukov, Murray Adler, Charlie Bisharat, Lily Ho Chen, Mario DeLeon, Joel Derouin, Armen Garabedian, Berj Garabedian, Tiffany Hu, Natalie Leggett, Katia Popov, Barbra Porter, violin; Roland Kato, Vicky Miskolczy, Simon Oswell, Ray Tischer, viola; Steve Erdody, Bob Adcock, Larry Corbett, Cecilia Tsan, cello.
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