Lester Young believed that every jazz player should know the lyrics of the song he plays. Listening to this collection of ballads, it is quite evident that Don Menza is one of those players. This lyrical tradition is reflected in Don’s sense of line, although, he says, he also hears in this album elements of all the saxophonists he has admired, including Zoot Sims, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, and particularly Gene Ammons. “And of course,” he said with a smile, “I hear a lot of myself.”
A similar lyrical sense infuses Frank Strazzeri’s playing. And the tradition is particularly conspicuous in his exquisite tone. Few pianists have anything like the warm and sensitive touch Strazzeri has. Singers all know the joy of working with only a superbly sensitive pianist for accompaniment. After hearing this album of beautiful ballads, I have only to say: It’s superb —warm and soft and gentle and moving. It sings.
—Gene Lees, 1987 (Lyricist and writer)
***** RINGER OF THE WEEK *****
"They sure don't make them like this anymore, and the reason is simple. Both tenor Don Menza (who’s still around and playing) and pianist Frank Strazzeri (who left us in 2014) honed their skills in big bands, therefore learning how to be a team player, be confident in your sound, and not overplay your hand. Is anyone paying attention?
The two gents were touring Europe together when producer Jordi Pujol lasso'd them in Barcelona and recorded this gorgeous duet of a ballad album. Tone, style and class radiate off of every note. Menza at times sounds like Stan Getz, Gene Ammons and Zoot Sims, which means that his dna matches that of Lester Young. Stazzeri is a bopper at heart, with hands expanded by stride, and the two blow smoke rings on pieces such as the frothy “You're My Thrill,” the fluffy “Darn That Dream” and foggy day of “What's New”. Menza opens up a swooning solo cadenza on “Over The Rainbow” before glistening like ruby slippers, Strazzeri's fingers are as soft and warm as a fist baseman’s mitt on “What's New” and keeps the saloon open late on “Blues In The Dark”. Put this one in a time capsule, and play it for the first day at school for every horn player at Berklee or Manhattan School of Music. Class is over."
George W. Harris (December 3, 2020)
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