August 2006

Don Menza and Pat LaBarbera Quintet
August 11, 2006The Rex Jazz & Blues BarToronto
Two Modern Tenors
by David Fujino
For Don Menza, who stormed The Rex bandstand with his dig in, committed tenor playing, the Toronto stimulus was especially strong.

Menza was happily reunited with his section mate from the Buddy Rich big band days, tenor player Pat LaBarbera. Also, he could savour 'good Canadian beers', and above all, he could re-establish 'the Sicilian connection' — that warm familial feeling, a little relaxation, "a little grappa" — with both Pat and his brother Joe LaBarbera, who firmly occupied the drum throne.

In town for two nights, Menza's chameleon nature was in full heads-down evidence during the two Opening Night sets I heard.

Often cited as a Sonny Rollins devotee, Menza's mid-range and upward pulled rhythmic figures on Rollins' "No Mo'" were gutsy and involving. On his own Calypso-influenced tune, "Sonny Days", Menza started out unaccompanied, then dueted with LaBarbera whose outpouring of rich saxophone and musical vocabulary typically energized and impressed. Then in reaction, and as a kind of rhythmic coda, Joe LaBarbera ignited in his solo outing and truly nailed his subtle yet insistent drum thing.

This evening was essentially a good time, hard-blowing session — but it's wise to avoid hasty generalizations. For example, you could say Pat LaBarbera's sound is like him, tall and self-contained, while Menza's is sturdy and barrel-chested — but how would you account for the second set where Menza's circular breathing frequently pushed his solos into continuous 'avant garde' streams of sound, while LaBarbera (on "Sonny Days", "You Stepped Out of A Dream", and "No Mo'") was adroitly quoting, angular, and dare I say 'Rollins-ish' in his solo references?

Don Menza

The point is, these two tenors are versatile veteran players with a lot of shared musical history; and along with the stalwart Toronto rhythm players — Steve Wallace with his purring bass lines, and pianist Eisenman's astute comping and fills — they delivered a music that lives with all the slippery excitement that characterizes a true jazz session.

Don Menza — tenor sax
Pat LaBarbera — tenor sax
Mark Eisenman — piano
Steve Wallace — acoustic bass
Joe LaBarbera — drums
We welcome your comments and feedback
David Fujino
• • • • • •
The Live Music Report
• •

| Home | Archives | CD Reviews | Photo Galleries | Concert Listings | Contact |

Please contact us to secure permission for use of any material found on this website.
© The Live Music Report – 2006