By Don Heckman
Don Menza picked the right players for his Stan Getz tribute at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. Tuesday night. The saxophone quartet of Menza, Pete Christlieb, Gary Foster (on tenors) and Gene Cipriano (on baritone) brought plenty of experience, skill and Getz-knowledge to the proceedings. Trumpeter Don Rader added some cool contrast, and the team of pianist Tom Ranier, bassist Chris Conner and drummer Dick Weller kept the rhythm swinging and authentic.
The three tenors and baritone section sound, of course, owed as much to the Ralph Burns and Jimmy Giuffre arrangements for the Woody Herman band of the late forties as it did to Getz. But the warmth of that sound could hardly have existed without the light timbre, Lester Young-influenced tone that Getz brought to the Herman saxophone section of the era.
What made Menza’s Getz tribute ensemble so fascinating, however, was the way in which the saxes captured the light-toned, Getz-influenced timbres during the ensemble sound, while exploring the more far-reaching aspects of Getz’s rich style during their own improvisational passages.
Each of the principal tenor soloists reflected upon a different aspect of that style. In tunes such as the opening ‘There’s A Small Hotel,” the classic bossa nova “The Girl From Ipanema” and the grooving blues of “Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid,” Christlieb dug into Getz’s often under-appreciated, hard driving approach. In contrast, Foster tended to play more lyrically, filling his melodically-oriented lines with airy high notes. And Menza, playing with the same sort of white Brilhart mouthpiece used by Getz, covered every aspect of his style, in phrasing, articulation and flow.
Cipriano spent most of the program anchoring the section, filling the bottom of the harmonies with his mellow sound, stepping out on his own with in-the-pocket solos on a pair of blues tunes. Rader, who could barely be seen sitting behind the tenors, slipped past them from time to time, whipping through the faster pieces, shifting into subtly expressive ballad-mode for “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.” And Ranier, as always, ranged from upbeat bop lines to lush chorded slow tunes.
The evening climaxed with a high speed, light cavalry charge through “It Don’t Mean A Thing” – a fitting closer for a tribute that honored its subject with the creativity he inspired in a group of gifted contemporary players.