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Quincy Jones/Sammy Nestico Orchestra: Basie and Beyond

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Jones arranged and conducted for Count Basie in the late 1950s and early 60s. Nestico was the prolific workhorse of the Basie arranging staff during the final decade and a half of Basie’s life. Their set of old and new arrangements is generally in the style of Basie’s New Testament band, with even more of the smoothness and bottom-to-top power that some of his devotees admired and others disdained. Jones expands three of his classic pieces, “Quintessence,” “Hard Sock Dance” and “For Lena and Lennie.” He adds new versions of “The Witching Hour” and “Belly Roll” and uses an orchestration of “Grace” from his previous album, Q’s Juke Joint. “Hard Sock Dance” begins with a conversation between drums and talking guitar that seems to have little to do with what follows, a superior piece of big band writing in the spirit and close to the letter of Jones’ original arrangement. Vibraharpist Emil Richards is the featured soloist.

Other soloists are trumpeter Warren Luening reprising Harry “Sweets” Edison, and Hubert Laws on flute in Nestico’s “How Sweet It Is;” tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb, brief and stunning in “The Witching Hour;” Ernie Watts on tenor in “Belly Roll;” saxophonists Dan Higgins and Kirk Whalum in several spots; and Bill Watrous, wild on trombone in “Ya Gotta Try…Harder” and “No Time Like The Present.” Whether the electric bass, funk guitar and percussion augmentation in Nestico’s “Out of the Night,” “The Joy of Cookin'” and a few of his other pieces constitute improvements to the Basie tradition or trendy updates will depend on the listener’s perception. In any case, they justify the Beyond of the album title.

The big news here is that Quincy Jones has made his first straightahead jazz album in decades. Maybe he’s coming back.