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‘Moment’ likely composer’s finest

This Is the Moment

Sammy Nestico

Fenwood Records



Grade: A+




His track record as composer and orchestrator for the Bill Basie band for 10 years is unequaled and the number of his other major accomplishments is staggering.

But Sammy Nestico’s self-produced recording “This Is the Moment” still may well be the crowning achievement of a long and distinguished career.

By self-admission, the Southern California resident poured his heart, soul and a barrel of money into the project. And it’s classic Nestico at every turn. He composed eight of the 13 selections, arranged all of them, and handpicked the 43 top-flight musicians for recording sessions, including members of a full string section that is employed to embellish several songs.

In short, Nestico’s footprints are all over the place from the very beginning – a groovy “Swingin’ On the Orient Express” that features a thoughtful muted trumpet solo by Warren Luening – to the finale – a light-hearted musical salute to Disney World that Nestico arranged for its 25th anniversary.

And the wonderful sound Nestico created for the Basie band – warm reeds blended with powerful brass and a wonderful swinging beat – is prominent during the proceedings, too.

That’s true whether it’s a performance of “Blues Machine” he wrote for Basie in ’83 or the title track featuring pianist Tom Rainier and alto saxist Dan Higgins that Nestico said represents “a return to my Count Basie roots.”

“Kiji Takes a Ride,” showcasing the piccolo trumpet work of Rick Baptist, is a departure for Nestico in that it’s an adaptation of Sergei Prokofiev’s “Lt. Kiji Suite.” And he dips into the world of Ellington to rework Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge” that spotlights tenorman Pete Christlieb backed by strings and French horns. For “Green Dolphin Street,” Nestico gives solo duties to flutist Hubert Laws; and it’s Luening whose fluegelhorn gives the Broadway show tune, “Where Is Love?” a warm luster.

“Toni,” Nestico’s tribute to songstress Toni Tennille, is laced in Latin and again features Luening on fluegel as well as master flutist Laws. Sammy digs into the past to reprise and re-cast “Shoreline Drive” for trombonist Dick Nash, among others; it’s a number he wrote in the ’70s for his “Dark Orchid” vinyl.

In sum, hang out the “Genius At Work” sign.

(For orders or information: http://www.sammynestico.com)

The Rare Delight of You

John Pizzarelli/George Shearing

Telarc Jazz

Grade: A

Differences in age have nothing to do with jazz, and George Shearing and John Pizzarelli are prime examples. Shearing, the British-born bop pianist, is in his 80s, which makes him roughly twice the age of Pizzarelli, a gifted guitarist and vocalist who is often compared to Nat Cole.

And the pairing is a fortuitous one. Shearing and his quintet can do almost anything: beautiful ballads, swingers, Latin, bop, the whole nine yards. And so can Pizzarelli, son of Bucky Pizzarelli, one of the last of the great rhythm guitarists.

As a rule, Shearing does not record with singers unless they’re something special. Which puts Pizzarelli in elite company in that Shearing’s recordings with the late Mel Torme are among his very best.

While not quite in the class of the Shearing-Torme tandem, the Shearing-Pizzarelli coupling produces memorable music. Like the opening track, “If Dreams Come True,” that Pizzarelli sings lightly and brightly before turning to his guitar for a 16-bar chase with Shearing.

Ditto “Lemon Twist,” a Bobby Troupe tune with ultra-hip lyrics that finds Pizzarelli scatting, bopping, and having himself a ball.

“Problem” is another song made for Pizzarelli: sassy lyrics, a loping beat, Shearing’s stylish piano and Neil Swainson’s bustling bass to fill the gaps. And the singer’s take of “Lulu’s Back in Town” evokes memories of Torme’s version with Shearing although Pizzarelli’s guitar chorus – shades of Tiny Grimes – dresses Lulu in new threads.

“The Lady’s In Love With You” is notable not only for the Pizzarelli vocal, but also for space devoted to Rob Schwager, Shearing’s regular six-stringer; while Shearing’s “Snowfall” chording gives Pizzarelli a comfortable cushion for “Something To Remember You By.” “Lost April” is a duet for the vocalist and the pianist taken at a surprisingly slow tempo.

“Shine on Your Shoes” is a showpiece for guitarists Schwager and Pizzarelli, and it’s a study in contrasts. Schwager comes on strong and direct, whereas Pizzarelli tends to go at it more gently, matching his Cole-inspired vocal.

Other high points include “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” with the Shearing quintet’s patented piano-guitar-vibes-bass-drums voicing a decided plus; the title track, written by Pizzarelli, that has a wonderful old-fashioned melody and lyrics; and the ballads: a straight-on treatment of “September in the Rain,” and “Indian Summer” that Shearing laces with snippets of “Lady Be Good” and “Maid With the Flaxen Hair.”

Cam Miller is a free-lance jazz critic in Lake Wildwood. Write him at The Union, 464 Sutton Way, 95945.


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