Alto saxophonist Lennie Niehaus is better known as the arranger for Clint Eastwood's films, but he has long been familiar to jazz fans as a respected bandleader, composer, arranger, and soloist. This limited-edition audiophile reissue of his first solo recordings (following stints with Stan Kenton and Shorty Rogers) is a stunner. Included is the first 10" LP he recorded with a three-saxophone front line -- in this case, with Jack Montrose (tenor), and Bob Gordon (baritone) -- and other quintet sessions with musicians including pianist Hampton Hawes, and fellow Kentonite Shelly Manne (who was responsible for Niehaus' record deal with Contemporary's Lester Koenig in the first place). The involvement of Kenton bandmembers familiar with one another lends an ease and excitement to the proceedings. These quintet sessions are West Coast jazz at its finest. Melodic tunes give plenty of air to the lyrical yet complex nature of much of the music coming from that region at the time, with no remnants of the cool jazz period. These 1954 sides stomp with swing, color, and style. Bebop is called upon for tempo and pace, while swing and hard bop are referenced as checkpoints. There is a genuine glee in Niehaus' playing on "I Can't Believe You're in Love with Me," when he trades solos with Stu Williamson, while he paces the slightly faster take on "I Remember You" until slipping into one of those long, melodically sophisticated solos of his, just when you expected another chorus. Listening to this, it's hard to believe West Coast jazz ever got a bad rap. This set sounds as fresh today as it did then.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek