Boy's Night Out
The Michael Treni Big Band

Michael Treni was a promising young trombonist in New York when in 1978 he lost out at the last minute to Curtis Fuller for a chance to tour Europe with Art Blakey. He decided at that point to focus on writing and arranging, and in 1985 started his own successful technology company and did not return to the music field until 1997. As an educator since then, Treni has also released four CDs through his own Bell Production Company, including Detour!: The Jazz Composers' Workshop Orchestra Plays the Music of Michael Treni (2007), and Turnaround (2009), which featured a 16-piece ensemble also performing his tunes and arrangements. Some of the musicians from Turnaround appear on Treni's new Boy's Night Out as well, including saxophonists Jerry Bergonzi and Frank Elmo, trumpeter Vinnie Cutro, pianist Charles Blenzig, and drummer Ron Vincent. Treni has spoken of his admiration of Oliver Nelson, Charles Mingus, Thad Jones, Gil Evans, and Bob Brookmeyer, and his laudable arranging style has absorbed aspects from each of these individual artist's approaches.

Treni's arrangement of "Something's Coming" captures the feel of this West Side Story classic perfectly, with zestful, streamlined interweaving of brass and saxes. Cutro delivers a commanding trumpet solo, his creativity, technique, and rich sound all impressive. Bergonzi follows on tenor with a darting, questing improv before the piece's tasteful resolution. "Boy's Night Out" is composer Treni's tribute to Thad Jones, and sounds like something Thad might have done for the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, what with its intricate, bluesy harmonies. Soloists include a quick-witted Sal Spicola on soprano, a spirited Philip Jones on bass trombone, and a soaring Chris Persad on trumpet. Vincent's drum work is nuanced and highly complementary. The blending of sections in the thematic development of Shearing's "Lullaby of Birdland" is exemplary. Elmo's tenor solo packs a subtle, understated punch, and Matt Bilyk offers a honey-toned statement on trombone. The full band then executes Treni's intricate, sometimes fugue-structured chart flawlessly, providing nourishment for both the intellect and the soul.

The performance of a Jerry Coker arrangement of Clare Fisher's "Strayhorn" begins with a majestic theme reading, leading into Spicola's whirlwind alto exploration and Bergonzi's resolute, uncompromising tenor solo. The brass section dazzles thereafter prior to yet a second compelling flight by Bergonzi. Then jabbing, energetic orchestral passages neatly segue into more poignant musings. Treni's "In My Quiet Time" is graced by Ken Hitchcock's haunting alto flute intro, as well as the addition of a sultry string quartet. Bassist Takashi Otsuka produces a forceful and passionate solo, and Elmo glides nimbly and movingly on soprano, with both improvisations backed by the enhancing orchestration of band and strings. This masterful Treni treatment comes full circle, after an extended reprise, with Hitchcock's flowing flute coda. "What is the World Coming To?" is a rollicking Treni tune and arrangement, a funky good time for all concerned, including the listener. Upbeat, testifying solos are created by Craig Yaremko on alto, Hitchcock on tenor, Bob Ferrel on trombone, and Cutro on trumpet. As on every selection, the supporting ensemble parts, and Otsuka's bass and Vincent's drums, form a stimulating foundation for the soloists.

A second Coker arangement, this time of Billy Strayhorn's own enduring "U.M.M.G," is appealingly straightforward and serves to showcase the impressive talents of pianist Blenzig, altoist Yaremko, and last, but not least, Bergonzi on tenor. The three horns engage in a heated exchange that is succeeded by another respectful delineation of the always arresting theme. Treni finally features himself, as well as Blenzig, on the concluding "Here's That Rainy Day." For a second time, Treni's skillful use of strings boosts his variegated arrangement significantly, and mood and tempo shifts add even more luster to this outstanding treatment. Treni's assured trombone playing here completes this recording's portrait of him as a top-shelf arranger, composer, and musician.

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Scott Albin