Tenor sax veteran Christlieb has the triple distinction of having been a longtime member of the Tonight Show Big Band, recording an album (Apogee, with Warne Marsh) produced by Steely Dan, and racing Top Fuel dragsters in the '60s and '70s. Despite his four decades of jazz work, he has very few dates as a leader, so in a sense he's catching up with old business, trying different-sized ensembles and styles of jazz. His personal sound bridges the gap between smooth, bluesy and ballsy, never compromising high ideals, and allowing various friends the spotlight, both from a performing and arranging standpoint. Christlieb also enjoys symphonic music, and it comes out in three more orchestral settings, as the Jim Self waltz "Capriole," with the leader doubling on bass clarinet, and the easygoing ballad "Violets," with dual flutes (Tom Scott & John Bainbridge) and trombonist Andy Martin leading the way as Christlieb takes a back seat. Christlieb takes charge on the expansive ballad "When I Fall in Love." Big band sounds clearly are the leader's comfort zone; Bill Holman's languid chart on "Laura" is perfectly romantic, while the sextet take of "I Won't Dance" sounds like a larger group, swinging hard on a hip, interactive melody line and (especially) end statement. Holman's staccato-riddled writing helps the sextet -- with backing trumpeter Conte Candoli, Martin, pianist Tom Ranier, bassist Jim Hughart and drummer Roy McCurdy -- swing "Out of This World" quite well, while Christlieb, pianist Lou Levy, drummer Joe LaBarbera and Hughart bop through Levy's "Pathetique," the best display of the leader's fluid drive and eminent capabilities. Ranier shows his immense talents, as a clarinetist on the hard swinger "Pernod" with guitarist Anthony Wilson, on the B-3 again (with Wilson and Christlieb's swaggering tenor) on the grooving take of "My Ideal," and as an arranger for the muted, Candoli-led, five-clarinet samba "Secret Passion." Christlieb's zinger is the six-piece vocal choir, directed by Don Shelton, oohing their way through the title ballad prior to a swinging bridge, girdered by Christlieb's vital tenor. There's quite a bit of diversity and great California-based musicianship -- sweetness and light as well as muscle and meat -- flowing through this recording by one of the jazz world's true unsung heroes.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos