Lennie Niehaus

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Lennie Niehaus, an excellent 1950s bop altoist, became so busy with arranging that he largely stopped playing in the early '60s. More than a quarter-century later, he made this "comeback" record, playing alto in a quintet also including Bill Perkins (on tenor, soprano, baritone and bass clarinet), pianist Frank Strazzeri, bassist Tom Warrington and drummer Joe LaBarbera. Niehaus had not declined one bit, and his playing throughout is quite exuberant. The group performs seven Niehaus originals, most of which are based on fairly common chord changes, plus three standards: "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," "But Not for Me" and the obscure "He Ain't Got Rhythm." Niehaus the arranger is not absent either; every song has colorful frameworks despite this being a quintet outing. Niehaus is backed only by Perkins' bass clarinet on parts of "But Not For Me"; arranged ensembles alternate with all-out jams; there are constant surprises in the solo order and length of the improvisations. Highly recommended to straight-ahead jazz fans, this is one of the strongest outings from Lennie Niehaus' playing career.

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