319

Don Menza Big Band: Menza Lines

Jack Bowers By

Sign in to view read count
Don Menza Big Band
Menza Lines
Jazzed Media
2005

Menza Lines is the second big-band album recorded in October '04 during Stratospheric, the Los Angeles Jazz Institute's salute to the music and career of high-note trumpet maestro Maynard Ferguson. Like the first one, Bill Holman Live, it's a clear-cut winner for Graham Carter's young but impressive Jazzed Media label.

The album's title has a dual meaning, epitomizing on the one hand Menza's linear charts, which invariably bring out the best in his eighteen-piece ensemble, and on the other his passion for model railroads (at home, he supervises a small-scale enterprise called the "Menza Line ). Menza's band also resembles a train, gathering speed as it rumbles persistently forward, engine at full throttle, hurrying to its destination but always staying precisely on track. For someone with his awesome reputation as a big-band composer/arranger (he has written for Maynard, Stan Kenton, Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson and Woody Herman, among others), Menza has kept an extremely low profile over the years. Menza Lines is only the second big-band album under his name, and the first in nearly a quarter-century (Menza's Burnin' was released in 1981). A long wait indeed, but well worth it.

Considering the time lapse, what were the odds that Menza could unearth the same trumpet section he had used on Burnin'? Whatever they were, he beat them, as the sleek and powerful quintet—Chuck Findley, Bobby Shew, Don Rader, Ron King, Frank Szabo—was on the scene and ready to report for duty, along with two more members of the '81 band, bass trombonist Bill Reichenbach and baritone saxophonist Jack Nimitz, and MF alumni Don Rader, Lanny Morgan and Mike Abene. With those gentlemen stoking the furnace, passengers on board Menza's enterprising train could look forward to a smooth and worry-free ride, which is exactly what Menza Lines delivers.

The excursion begins in low gear with Jimmy Mundy's "Gravy (better known as "Walkin' ). It is here that the album's only evident misstep takes place, as Menza presumes the first solo is his and runs with the ball for about two steps (bars) before quickly handing off to his cousin, alto saxophonist Russ D'Alba, who improvises some dazzling broken-field moves and steps aside for Nimitz, who produces more of the same. "Nina Never Knew is all Menza's, and even while insisting he has "retired as a player, he continues to vanquish most younger gladiators, presenting a textbook example of how to approach a ballad and get it exactly right.

The lively "T 'n T is a showcase for the trombones, bringing to mind Jimmy Giuffre's classic "Four Others while accommodating dapper solos by Alex Iles, Bob McChesney and guitarist Mark Waggoner (also outstanding on the sensuous bossa "Faviana and wailing closer, "Time to Leave, based on "After You've Gone ). Menza and Rader construct persuasive solos on "Faviana, Menza and drummer Mike Stephans (a monstrous presence throughout) on "Time to Leave.

Morgan's superlative alto is spotlighted on "Hark' the Harold (a.k.a. "Stella by Starlight ), Shew's diaphanous flugel on Ellington's amorous "Prelude to a Kiss (with further tasteful remarks by Abene). Chris Conner's walking bass introduces "Broad Bottom, written to emphasize the ensemble's lower register (Reichenbach's bass trombone, Nimitz's bass clarinet, Abene's left hand, Menza's husky tenor) with flugelhorns and flutes creating an airy sound on top. King takes the first solo, followed by Conner, Reichenbach and Abene, while the ensemble produces an entrancing panorama of sound, reinforcing the tune's lovely melody.

This is an exhilarating trip by any measure, enfolded by interesting byways and gorgeous scenery. If you've not yet acquired a seat on the Menza Lines, don't hesitate any longer. Reserve your space in the first-class compartment and be ready to hit the rails when the conductor shouts "All aboard!


Tracks: Gravy (a.k.a. Walkin'); Nina Never Knew; T 'n T; Faviana; Hark' the Harold; Broad Bottom; Prelude to a Kiss; Time to Leave (70:49).

Personnel: Don Menza: composer, arranger, leader, tenor sax; Chuck Findley, Bobby Shew, Don Rader, Ron King, Frank Szabo: trumpet; Lanny Morgan, Russ D'Alba, Doug Webb, Tom Peterson, Jack Nimitz: reeds; Alex Iles, Bob McChesney, John Hasselback, Bill Reichenbach: trombone; Mike Abene: piano; Mark Waggoner: guitar; Chris Conner: bass; Mike Stephans: drums.


Track Listing: Gravy (a.k.a. Walkin); Nina Never Knew; T n T; Faviana; Hark the Harold; Broad Bottom; Prelude to a Kiss; Time to Leave (70:49).

Personnel: Don Menza: composer, arranger, leader, tenor sax; Chuck Findley, Bobby Shew, Don Rader, Ron King, Frank Szabo: trumpet; Lanny Morgan, Russ DAlba, Doug Webb, Tom Peterson, Jack Nimitz: reeds; Alex Iles, Bob McChesney, John Hasselback, Bill Reichenbach: trombone; Mike Abene: piano; Mark Waggoner: guitar; Chris Conner: bass; Mike Stephans: drums.

Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Jazzed Media | Style: Big Band


Shop

More Articles

Read Tim Bowness: Lost in the Ghostlight Extended Analysis Tim Bowness: Lost in the Ghostlight
by John Kelman
Published: February 19, 2017
Read Way Down Inside: Songs of Willie Dixon Extended Analysis Way Down Inside: Songs of Willie Dixon
by Doug Collette
Published: February 18, 2017
Read Chicago II (Steven Wilson Remix) Extended Analysis Chicago II (Steven Wilson Remix)
by John Kelman
Published: February 12, 2017
Read The Rolling Stones: Blue and Lonesome Extended Analysis The Rolling Stones: Blue and Lonesome
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: November 27, 2016
Read Nat Birchall: Creation Extended Analysis Nat Birchall: Creation
by Phil Barnes
Published: November 23, 2016
Read "Akinola Sennon: Cousoumeh" Extended Analysis Akinola Sennon: Cousoumeh
by Nigel Campbell
Published: September 26, 2016
Read "Nat Birchall: Creation" Extended Analysis Nat Birchall: Creation
by Phil Barnes
Published: November 23, 2016
Read "FAT: (Living the Dream)" Extended Analysis FAT: (Living the Dream)
by John Kelman
Published: May 18, 2016
Read "Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra: Les Deux Versants Se Regardent" Extended Analysis Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra: Les Deux Versants Se Regardent
by Phil Barnes
Published: November 10, 2016
Read "Jack Tempchin: One More Song" Extended Analysis Jack Tempchin: One More Song
by Doug Collette
Published: September 25, 2016
Read "Steve Khan: Eyewitness Trilogy" Extended Analysis Steve Khan: Eyewitness Trilogy
by John Kelman
Published: April 17, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!