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The Don Menza Big Band: Menza Lines

Many listeners know Don Menza only as the outstanding tenor-saxophone soloist on Buddy Rich’s Channel One Suite. Others know of his vast experience with various combos and with big bands like those of Maynard Ferguson and Stan Kenton. Not so commonly known is that Menza is also a fine composer and arranger. But Menza Lines, his second album as a leader (and the first since 1981), shows what he can do in that arena. As he put it himself, “There’s no gimmicks and no submissions to current trends or popular styles.” Indeed, his straightahead writing reflects the influence of, among other Menza favorites, the great Bill Holman. For this live 2004 Los Angeles performance, Menza enlisted the services of some of the area’s key players.

The arrangements range from the pensive ballads “Nina Never Knew,” featuring the leader, and “Prelude to a Kiss,” which showcases trumpeter Bobby Shew, to the blazing “Time to Leave,” over the changes to “After You’ve Gone.” The program also includes the funky blues “Gravy,” the Brazilian-steeped “Faviana,” a Lanny Morgan alto romp on the chords to “Stella by Starlight” (“Hark’ the Harold”), the uptempo trombone-section feature “T’N’T” (a la Jimmy Giuffre’s “Four Others”) and “Broad Bottom,” which deftly utilizes the lower-pitched instruments.

Originally Published