Paralleling Henry Mancini's own late-'50s, West Coast jazz noir backdrop to the detective TV series Peter Gunn, Johnny Mandel's I Want to Live soundtrack works both as high-end mood music and swinging jazz. And while straight jazz workouts like "San Diego Party" are fine, the most intriguing cuts are those that seamlessly combine jazz, Latin percussion, and strains of Max Steiner's dramatically moody soundtracks; Mandel creates an especially provocative and calamitous mix of it on tracks like "Stakeout." And as far as murky ambience goes, he delivers some of the best (next to Mancini) with numbers like the subtly sinister "Preparations for Executions." Mandel further demonstrates his ease with a variety of forms on marriages of high and low art like the avant-garde classical and Las Vegas grind/lounge mix "Trio Convicted," the spookily claustrophobic "Gas Chamber Unveiling," and the into-the-light-of-day "Letter Writing Sequence." To help navigate the vast terrain, Mandel enlists a cadre of top West Coast players like trumpeter Jack Sheldon, trombonist Frank Rosolino, reed player Bill Holman, bassist Red Mitchell, and drummer Shelly Manne. And topping off Mandel's original score, Rykodisc has included Gerry Mulligan and Art Farmer's combo interpretations of a handful of Mandel's original themes from the movie (Mulligan and company appear in the movie's bar scenes). One of the best jazz-inspired soundtracks around.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Cook