Often confused with his cousin, tenor player Sal Nistico, arranger/writer Sammy Nestico joined the Count Basie in 1967 and contributed to its book off and on for the next 16 years. One of Nestico's early arranging assignments for Basie was for the December 1967 LP Straight Ahead which is not now available. Chicago based Bill O'Connell felt this music deserved to be heard and heard to its best advantage on a digitally mastered CD. To this end, he brought two incarnations -- the 1992 and 1997 groups -- of his Chicago Skyliner Big Band into the studio to play the Nestico material. The 1997 group handles the first six tracks while the 1992 outfit, the rest. There's little to choose among either, both are excellent keepers of the swinging big band flame in general, and the Basie sound of the period in particular. To fill out the CD, the first three tracks by arranger Rick Hirsch were added.
O'Connell has included two versions of "Straight Ahead," the first dubbed the "more accessible version" and the other "original professional version." The main differences between the two are that the first version has a short piano intro before the horns come in, while the latter uses more bass in the intro. There are more drum breaks by O'Connell and a good tenor solo, probably by Kurt Kreimier recollecting Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, one of many good players on the original Basie album. "Straight Ahead," by the way, is remindful of one of Basie's biggest hits, "April in Paris." There is more good soloing, especially on "Lonely Street," but the liner notes don't identify by whom. Bobby Schiff and Eric Scott do the Basie piano things at appropriate times, particularly at the end of the tunes.
O'Connell founded his group in 1988 to keep big band swing alive and he is doing more than a credible job. He has three albums for the Blue Birdland Records and a couple for Sea Breeze. This one is especially entertaining since it's made up of material that may otherwise have disappeared completely.