Live at Falcon Lair has a more interesting back story than many older recordings that have been rescued for posterity, but even the story takes a backseat to the excellent music. Falcon Lair wasn't a club, but the home of Doris Duke (and once the home of Rudolph Valentino), whom pianist Joe Castro married in 1956. Castro developed his musical rep playing around L.A., sometimes in the company of bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Ron Jefferson.
Along with his album with Count Basie (Basie and Zoot) during the same period, this is one of Sims' most exciting recordings of his career. Greatly assisted by pianist Oscar Peterson, guitarist Joe Pass, bassist George Mraz, and drummer Grady Tate, he explores ten songs written by George and Ira Gershwin. Somehow the magic was definitely present and, whether it be stomps such as "The Man I Love," "Lady Be Good," and "I Got Rhythm" or warm ballads (including "I've Got a Crush on You" and "Embraceable You"), Zoot Sims is heard at the peak of his powers. A true gem.
Norman Granz's idea to match Zoot Sims' lyrical, swinging tenor sax with Johnny Mandel's equally arresting compositions was a masterful one. Sims' tart, alternately lush and furious solos were wonderfully spotlighted on such tunes as "Cinnamon and Cloves," "Emily" and "Zoot." The six-tune session, recently issued on CD, also contains effective piano solos from Mike Wofford. The date's tour-de-force was its final selection, the wonderful "Low Life," which Sims probed, illuminated and ultimately redefined via his solo.