Evidently a roaring, acoustic big band is what it takes to stir up the excitement at Donte's. Friday evening Don Menza, leading a 15-man, one-woman orchestra (Anne King was a member of the trumpet section) showed enough of that old-time spirit to keep the packed house jumping.
A saxophonist of boundless energy, coupled (as too seldom happens among tenor players) with generally good taste, Menza concentrated on his own compositions, with occasional examples of how effectively he can rearrange a jazz standard such as "Caravan."
Though the band rarely works together (Menza is a busy free-lance musician), the teamwork was clean enough to do justice to the generally spirited charts. The five-man saxophone section, with Ray Reed playing lead alto, was particularly impressive in a soli passage on "Groove Blues." In other numbers, Menza and most of his section mates doubled on flutes, often to vivid effect.
Menza's brass team, nine strong, came through flaring and blaring on such pieces as "Tattoo" (with a lyrical fluegelhorn solo by Anne King) and "Bones Alone." The latter was mainly a showcase for the five trombones, with Bill Reichenbach standing out among the soloists.
During the first show there was trouble with the balance, aggravated by the lack of a piano. Drums and bass do not necessarily constitute a complete big band rhythm section, even when they happen to be Roy McCurdy and John Leftwich. Still, with the leader charging ahead in a multinoted display on his own colorful, Latin-flavor "Spanish Boots," the message came across bold and clear.
Menza returns to Donte's tonight leading a quartet.