Pete Christlieb with the Lori Mechem Quartet: A straight-ahead, swinging quartet with one of the all-time great tenor sax players on the west coast scene!
All About Jazz – By Jack Bowers
I fell head-over-heels in love with the tenor saxophone the first time I heard Zoot Sims play one, and my heart (thank goodness) has never quite recovered from the impact. These days I have two tenors of choice, one on each coast—Eric Alexander in the east, Pete Christlieb way out west. And the strange part is, about the only thing they have in common is that they both play the same horn. Alexander is a hard-line, straight-ahead, no-nonsense swinger from the Dexter Gordon/George Coleman (and Zoot Sims) school, whereas Christlieb dances nimbly and impulsively with the edge, much like altoist Lee Konitz or the late Warne Marsh, and one seldom knows what avenue he may choose to explore or where the next phrase may lead him. Truth be told, Christlieb could play the phone book and make it sound intriguing.
Christlieb doesn’t play the phone book at the Nashville Jazz Workshop’s Jazz Cave, but he’s all over the tenor, as usual, in an electrifying live performance with the remarkably adept and supportive Lori Mechem Quartet. While there’s no doubt that Christlieb is the headliner, Mechem and her colleagues are there when he needs them, conveying the impression that this was a well-rehearsed gig instead of a hastily planned session, occasioned by Christlieb’s brief stopover in Nashville in April 2006.
Mechem, in particular, is a real eye-opener. What a pianist with her singular talent is doing in Nashville is anyone’s guess, but they’re lucky to have her. She’s not only an impressive soloist (who numbers among her influences Wynton Kelly, Oscar Peterson, Gene Harris, Monty Alexander, Erroll Garner and Bill Evans), but a vigilant and perceptive accompanist who always finds the proper notes to underscore precisely Christlieb’s impromptu acrobatics. Bassist Roger Spencer, drummer Chris Brown and rhythm guitarist Andy Reiss round out a splendid group that is by no means eclipsed or overawed by its celebrated guest star.
The music chosen for the concert is for the most part well-known, consisting of half a dozen standards plus jazz evergreens by Evans (Turn Out the Stars) and Benny Carter’s When Lights Are Low, Only Trust Your Heart. Luckily, Christlieb is a peerless balladeer, as there are four on the menu, including the requisite encore, Ellington/Strayhorn’s Day Dream. The snappy flag-wavers are Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein’s “The Song Is You” and Franz Lehar’s sunny opener, “Yours Is My Heart Alone”. Speaking of alone, Christlieb devises a breathtaking unaccompanied cadenza on We’ll Be Together Again.
In sum, this is a marvelous live performance, splendidly recorded with generous sixty-nine minute playing time. Don’t be put off by the fact that Christlieb’s companions are unknown; this is as sharp and stalwart a quintet as you are likely to encounter in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago or anywhere else.
Parade of Stars – by Chuck Chellman
Oftentimes, listening to a great jazz album is like treating yourself to a gourmet meal. When you’re hungry for good jazz and recognizable tunes, this is the complete choice of the entire menu. The menu consists of eight items and all are delicious.
The ingredients are Pete Christlieb on tenor sax, Lori Mechem piano, Andy Reiss guitar, Roger Spencer bass and Chris Brown drums.
Christlieb has a great history across America having worked with the “Tonight Show Orchestra” for twenty years and countless recording sessions over the years and doing jazz club gigs. The club dates were mostly on the West Coast. The Nashville music community was treated to hear this recording being cut live at the Jazz Cave.
The album opens with the wonderful “Yours Is My Heart Alone”. We never get tired of this evergreen; yet Pete, Lori, Andy, Roger and Chris give it a fresh new life. Many think “Limehouse Blues” is a worn out nag. It certainly isn’t worn out with this group. The tempo is a really neat medium groove and the playing is strong throughout. Andy Reiss’ rhythm guitar and Spencer’s solid bass lines make it easy for Pete and Lori’s fine solo work. Hearing the instrumental rendition of the Billy Eckstine classic “You’ve Changed” is a special treat. They make this beautiful ballad sparkle with the treatment given. You can hear the love come across in all the solos. Ditto “We’ll Be Together Again”. We could list all the songs and declare them all favorites. We’d rather you buy this album off the Workshop’s website and find your own favorite. Now that we have devoured this classic dish of music, the desert fits the meal. The always sweet “Day Dream”, an Ellington – Strayhorn classic, finishes off the evening. Fittingly, this cut is the encore to the Pete Christlieb live recording at the Jazz Cave. I think Pete will agree that this is the finest quartet of musicians he has had the pleasure of working with.
The Jazz Cave is a part of the Nashville Jazz Workshop www.nashvillejazz.org. If you are in Nashville, you need to check it out. If you visit Nashville, make this your first stop. It is purely a listening room where you BYOB and are asked to turn off your cell phones while the music is going on and to hold conversation to a minimum. Directors are Roger Spencer and Lori Mechem. Any questions, check the website or call them at (615) 242-5299. Lori and Roger are head of a faculty that teaches all types of jazz studies. Part of the graduation process is the opportunity for the students to sing or play in front of a live audience that knows and loves jazz.
The City Paper – by Ron Wynn
October 13, 2006
Nashville Jazz workshop co-founder, instructor, pianist and bandleader Lori Mechem’s previous release Shiny Stockings—The Lori Mechem Quartet Plays Count Basie explored the classic swing compositions of the celebrated Basie orchestra. The disc won widespread critical acclaim, and its fans included noted West Coast saxophonist Pete Christlieb. Now Mechem and her quartet have teamed with Christlieb on a stirring new CD Live At the Jazz Cave—Pete Christlieb with the Lori Mechem Quartet that spotlights selections recorded during a two-night engagement at the Workshop last April.
They’ll be performing selections from the disc at a special CD release party Sunday that also features a rare Nashville appearance by Christlieb, a prominent studio veteran best known for serving more than 20 years in the Tonight Show orchestra.
“We first worked with Pete about four years ago at the Watertown festival and had a great time,” Mechem said. “Plus (co-founder and bassist) Roger (Spencer) had known him for years and worked with him on various studio projects. We had been talking about teaming together and finally said let’s go ahead and make it happen. But he’s an avid drag racing fan who even builds his own cars and we had to schedule the recording around his racing season. We had one 90-minute rehearsal and then it was just full speed ahead from there.”
Live At The Jazz Cave places Christlieb’s signature big tone, fluid solos and great combination of blues expressiveness and swing fervor center stage on such cuts as “The Song Is You,” “Yours Is My Heart Alone,” “You’ve Changed” and “When Lights Are Low.” But it’s a true collaboration with pianist Mechem, bassist Spencer, guitarist Andy Reiss and drummer Chris Brown all playing pivotal roles in every phase from ensemble interaction and support to fiery exchanges and excellent accompanying and complimentary solos. The sound is also superb, something Mechem credits to engineers Tom Knox and Jeff Hall, as well as Knox’s expertise (who spearheads the recording for WPLN-FM’s live concert series) at mixing and mastering.
“One reason that the session worked so well was that Pete really knows how to find the groove and bring out the swing in every situation,” Mechem added. “He’s like an Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis or Stanley Turrentine in that regard. Another thing that really clicked was when he called out the Bill Evans song ‘Turn Out The Stars.’ I had been studying that song for some reason, so we really got something special happening with that one.”
Live at the Jazz Cave will be available online at CD Baby early next week. Mechem also said she plans to eventually have it available at such retail outlets as Davis-Kidd Booksellers and Borders.
“This was the first live recording that we’ve done at the Jazz Workshop, so we were a bit nervous,” Mechem said. “But we’re thrilled at how well it turned out and we’re also really happy to have someone like Pete coming to town for this release party.”
Nashville Scene – by Jack Silverman
Even if you don’t know Pete Christlieb by name, chances are you’ve heard his playing. Besides being a 20-year veteran of the Tonight Show band, the tenor saxophonist lent his skills to many a prime-time TV show, including the original Star Trek series and nearly every one of its spinoffs. He played on Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable and has been a member of several high-profile bands, including Woody Herman’s and Louis Bellson’s. Last April, Christlieb came to Nashville and recorded a live date at the Nashville Jazz Workshop’s Jazz Cave with the Lori Mechem Quartet, featuring Mechem on piano, guitarist Andy Reiss, bassist Roger Spencer and drummer Chris Brown. (Mechem and Spencer run the Jazz Workshop.) The CD features some top-notch playing on standards by the likes of Bill Evans, Benny Carter, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, but it wisely avoids well-worn chestnuts. The lineup reconvenes this week to play a live afternoon set celebrating the album’s release. Nashville Jazz Workshop’s Jazz Cave, 4-6 p.m. —JACK SILVERMAN
Written by Mark Edwards
In theory, people who play jazz are really magicians. Musical slight-of-hand artists, they weave aural tapestries in the air from, apparently, nothing. These tapestries can have the oddest effects on people. They can cause an entire roomful of listeners to stand, scream, applaud and beg for more. On the other hand, the same listeners can be reduced to a weeping mass, again begging for more. Truly magic from a troupe of musicians who are just “making it up as they go along.”
On April 18th and 19th of 2006, saxophonist Pete Christlieb and the Lori Mechem Quartet worked some palpable musical magic in the Jazz Cave a the Nashville Jazz Workshop. With virtually no rehearsal time (if you discount the couple of hundred years of collective musical experience in the group), they were able to produce the recording you now possess. In front of live audiences, no less. Penn and Teller would be amazed.
Christlieb’s jazz bona fides are without question. A twenty year veteran of the “Tonight Show” orchestra, thousands of hours of studio work and hundreds of jazz gigs, primarily on the West Coast, have given him the experience required to pull off a one shot live recording without breaking a sweat. A huge-toned tenor player with astounding technique, he is able to fill up a room with his sound. He is stunning on ballads as well as up-tempo burners. Jazz magic without equal.
A few words about the other players:
Lori Mechem’s piano work is a mystical amalgam of Erroll Garner, Bill Evans and Red Garland. She takes the best qualities of all three and manages to pull a musical rabbit out of the hat on every solo, all the while swinging like a fiend.
Roger Spencer’s efforts on bass perfectly emulate his heroes, Ray Brown and Niels Pederson. Rock solid time and unrelenting swing, all done with a quizzical little smile and a subtle bob of the head. It’s obvious when he thinks the music is right and he was a very happy person on the two nights this disc was recorded.
Chris Brown was the perfect drummer for the project. All substance, just the right amount of flash and a boat-load of swing. He drove the up-tempo tunes and his brushwork on the ballads was as subtle as a kiss.
Andy Reiss was, as Spencer so succinctly put it, the “secret weapon” on this recording. Playing solely rhythm guitar, every chord perfectly placed, Reiss held the rhythm section together in the great Freddie Green tradition.
A live jazz recording in Nashville, Tennessee? With on of the best tenor players in America and a truly inspired rhythm section? This was musical magic indeed.