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Pete Christlieb Quintet, "Santa’s Bones" at Phoenix Musicians Hall

Patricia Myers By

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Pete Christlieb, "Santa's Bones"
Musicians Hall, Phoenix Musicians Union, Local 586 AFM
Phoenix, AZ
November 30 and December 2, 2014

Concerts by tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb and a trombone ensemble called "Santa's Bones" were presented as part of on ongoing series at the Musicians Hall of the Phoenix Musicians Union, Local 586 AFM.

Los Angeles-based Christlieb is a longtime big-band and studio musician who played 20 years in "Johnny Carson's Tonight Show" band. He and his wife, trombonist Linda Small, performed on Nov. 30 with Phoenix-based pianist Armand Boatman, bassist Jack Radavich and drummer Dan Tomlinson.

The afternoon program opened with the jazz standard "I Should Care," Small launching the melody line and Chrislieb playing mostly in the lower register of his horn. The quintet then roared into the ear-challenging "Bop Suey" with its dozen-plus bebop-chart references skillfully executed by the two horns, Boatman adding more of his always-clever quotes.

Small next played late trombonist Frank Rosolino's "Blue Daniel" with exceptional tone and form. Then the ensemble worked over "We'll Be Together Again," played first in a slow ballad mode, then sparked by a tenor-driven second chorus that segued into a stunning Christlieb soliloquy. An adept exploration of Clifford Brown's "Daoud" closed the first set, Tomlinson inventively varied in his fours segment.

Benny Golson's infectious "Killer Joe" was the post-intermission opener for all to dig in and swing. Christlieb then chose Dizzy Gillespie's "Woody 'n' You," the 1940s homage to bandleader-clarinetist Woody Herman, following that with a samba treatment of trumpeter Lee Morgan's "Ceora" that was enlivened by Radavich's resonant liquidity. Hank Mobley's hip "This I Dig of You" was the concert's closing chart, Boatman applying minor harmonies to propel the dual horns action.

Two days later, a trombone ensemble filled the Musicians Hall on Dec. 2 with a diverse program of classical compositions, pop hits and Christmas favorites. Director Doug Robinson combined two trombone groups from the Scottsdale and Mesa Community Colleges into a band of ten tenor and three bass trombones.

The concert opened with "Boar's Head Carol," a traditional 15th-century English composition, followed by a reverential Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart piece, "Ave Verum Corpus." A somber mood came with shift into 20th century works for Gustav Mahler's "Langsam from Symphony No. 3." Providing contrast was Sergei Prokofiev's briskly bouncing "Sleigh Ride," a holiday favorite from the 1930s.

Robinson wisely also programmed pop and seasonal sounds, adding pianist Danielle Cook, bassist Colby Robinson and drummer Jesse-Lee Yarbrough, plus a cameo by tenor saxophonist Jerry Donato. Starting with composer John Williams' love-theme from the "Superman" movie, "Can You Read My Mind?" the ensemble stayed modern with the theme from 1990's "George of the Jungle" movie, complete with t-bone sliding roars.

When the program moved into seasonal favorites, some in the audience set their toes tapping to the 1950s rockabilly sound of "Jingle Bell Rock." That winter hit was popularized by performers ranging from Brenda Lee to Bill Haley and the Comets, to Alvin and the Chipmunks to, more recently, George Strait and Blake Shelton-Miranda Lambert; a half-century later, most radio stations still play one of the versions during the season.

No traditional holiday program would be complete without "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" from 1939 and the World War II-era "I'll Be Home For Christmas," also the beautiful ballad, "The Christmas Song" and, of course, "Jingle Bells" (that sound emulated via cymbals from the drum kit). The finale was a richly evocative rendition of "Silent Night." Then Robinson and the trombones added a dash of humorous wit with the "That's All Folks" closing theme from the Loony Tunes cartoon series, leaving listeners smiling for the road-trip home.

The two concerts were presented by the Phoenix Musicians Union Local 586 AFM and Young Sounds of Arizona. The next monthly first-Tuesday performance will be at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 6, featuring jazz-blues organist Peter Zale. All concerts are free and open to the public in the hall.

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