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Lennie Niehaus Octet at the Lighthouse Cafe

Jim Santella By

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Lennie Niehaus Octet
The Lighthouse Café
Hermosa Beach, California
October 17, 2004

Sunday afternoons at the beach are always a pleasure. The Lighthouse Café, sponsor of the West Coast Cool branch of modern jazz for over 50 years, brought in eight of Southern California's finest for a recording session this sunny October afternoon. Howard Rumsey, as well, was on hand to enjoy the event. Woofy Productions plans to release the resulting "live" recording in the coming months. With the superb arranging of Lennie Niehaus, his fluid, bop-inspired alto saxophone soloing, and the torrid improvisation of his partners, the afternoon session brought many pleasant surprises.

Niehaus, whose big band arranging and alto saxophone talents graced the Stan Kenton Orchestra, has remained a Southern California stalwart, leading his own small groups for decades. His band and orchestra arrangements have bolstered the Monterey Jazz Festival. But his more public notoriety comes through an association with actor/director Clint Eastwood. Their joint projects, which include Bird , Tightrope , Unforgiven , The Bridges of Madison County and Space Cowboys , leave a lasting impression on movie audiences, as well as on jazz enthusiasts.

The session began with "Nobody Else But Me." Leader Niehaus took the reins and delivered a stirring alto introduction for the afternoon session. His feature contained hot, bop-driven statements, as well as cool, swinging melodies. A fluid performer with a brilliant tone, Niehaus set the desired pattern for his octet to follow. On trumpet, Ron Stout unleashed a polished improvised solo that emphasized his gentle demeanor. Tenor saxophonist Tom Peterson followed with a laid back chorus that highlighted his silky tone. Trombonist Bob McChesney contributed a buttery improvisation that was followed by Jack Nimitz's dynamic baritone saxophone solo. After bassist Trey Henry and drummer Dick Weller traded fours, the ensemble was back to its alto saxophone-led romp. Smooth corners and a boppish attitude gave the octet's opening piece a creative coloring.

Jobim's "Dindi" followed, with the octet supporting Niehaus in a fast-moving Latin jazz idiom. Pianist Bob Florence started the piece and provided several exciting solos.

The afternoon's performance included much more. "Alone Together," "In Your Own Sweet Way," "I Didn't Know What Time It Was," "If I Should Lose You" and "There Will Never Be Another You" provided more opportunities for the audience to consume Niehaus' positive manner. An original composition, written expressly for the octet, "Rush Hour" featured ballad soloing by trumpet and alto saxophone. The afternoon's session was a memorable performance by an alto saxophonist in his prime. His all-star octet of Southern California veterans gives Lennie Niehaus the best of both worlds: stellar band arrangements and a superb group of artists to interpret them.

Related Site
Visit Woofy Productions , an independent label specializing in live recordings of West Coast jazz artists.

Photo: The historic Lighthouse Cafe circa 1950.

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