Boy’s Night Out
The Michael Treni Big Band
From Bunk Johnson and George Lewis to Frank Morgan and Henry Grimes, the history of jazz is rife with dramatic comebacks where big league musicians returned to the spotlight with renewed power and conviction after years of scuffling in obscurity. The story of trombonist/arranger Michael Treni follows a different arc. He spent more than a decade on the New York scene, first as part of a cadre of brilliant young improvisers and later as a top-shelf studio arranger and composer. When he walked away from music in the late 1980s, it was to pursue an entrepreneurial vision as the founder of a company specializing in innovative wireless audio and language interpretation systems (he holds two patents in wireless technology). About nine years ago he returned to jazz, his first passion. Working in partnership with his equally gifted producer, Roy Nicolosi, who’s also an accomplished reed player, he has gradually assembled the Michael Treni Big Band, a jazz orchestra loaded with heavyweight players. “Boy’s Night Out” is his fourth release since rededicating himself to music, and it’s the work of a savvy leader who knows how to get the most out of his crew. Boston tenor sax legend Jerry Bergonzi is the best-known player, but the 16-piece band features an array of veteran cats.
“As beautifully as everyone plays no one is trying to show off and the chemistry is really great,” says Treni, who is quick to note that the gender specific title track doesn’t acknowledge the reality of today’s jazz scene. “The whole idea is guys going out and playing in the club for fun. When I wrote it 30 years ago, you didn’t have all the wonderful female musicians that you do now.”
The title might be dated, but the band’s sound is timeless. The album opens with Treni’s treatment of Leonard Bernstein’s portentous “West Side Story” anthem “Something’s Coming.” With the trumpet and soprano sax introducing the theme in unison, the piece is so lyrically charged it’s no surprise that he originally conceived the chart for a vocalist. Whether Treni is arranging his own pieces, like the sensuous, intricately detailed ballad “In My Quiet Time,” or reimagining standards, such as the lush, dramatic version of “Here’s That Rainy Day” that closes the album, Treni turns every piece into a sonic adventure. It’s significant that he includes two interrelated arrangements by noted jazz educator Jerry Coker, Clare Fisher’s aptly urbane “Strayhorn” and Billy Strayhorn’s jaunty “U.M.M.G.” As a crucial mentor of Treni’s when he was a prodigious teenager studying jazz at the University of Miami, Coker is one of many sources of inspiration for the music on “Boy’s Night Out.”
“My favorite writer is Oliver Nelson, but I also love Mingus and Thad Jones,” Treni says. “I like the colors that Gil Evans produced and I love Bob Brookmeyer’s writing. My guiding principal is to leave lots of space and not get in the soloist’s way.”
Growing up on the East Coast in the 1960s, Treni studied with a succession of highly accomplished big band veterans, including Sonny Costanza and Don Doane, a brilliant trombonist who toured with Woody Herman. He earned a full scholarship to Boston’s Berklee College of Music, but instead enrolled at the University of Miami, where he displayed such prowess that the school recruited him for the faculty at 19. Before long, Treni launched the band Kaleidoscope with classmate Pat Metheny. By the mid-1970s he was a rising player in New York City keeping company with other prodigious young artists like Tom Harrell, John McNeil, Paul McCandless and Earl Gardner. But when Treni lost the opportunity to tour Europe with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, his ambition took him in another direction. Recommended for the Messengers by his University of Miami buddy Bobby Watson, Treni impressed Blakey at an on-stage audition at a Village Vanguard.
“After the set Art came up and gave me a bear hug and said, ‘Damn man, you can play!’” Treni recalls. “I finished the week with him and everything seemed set for the European tour, but when I didn’t hear anything I called Bobby. It turned out that Curtis Fuller heard about the tour and asked if he could do it, so I didn’t get to go. That snapped something in me. If I wasn’t going to play with Blakey, I was going to pursue a career as a writer and commercial arranger.”
Today, Treni is almost grateful for Fuller’s intervention. After a successful stint as an arranger and a career in business, he’s back making music on his own terms, enjoying all the camaraderie, creative fission and sheer swinging joy of a boy’s night out.
By Andrew Gilbert
The Boston Globe
San Jose Mercury News
“When it comes to Jazz my favorite style is big band and I take Count Basie's band as my benchmark. I think I have now found a new benchmark in The Michael Treni Big Band and their new album Boys Night Out…I think there is a world-wide audience looking to listen to a great big band and this could be the contender for that crown. Highly recommended.”
John M. Peters, Musicwatch, The Borderland UK
“The arrangements soar, the soloists sizzle, the ideas flow, and the band is a winner!”
George Fendel, Jazz Society of Oregon's Jazz Scene
“Writing for big band like it's no effort at all, the gang enjoys the hang and the jazzbo vibes are flowing from the top shelf. Tasty, contemporary big band that is note perfect throughout and a real wake up call for genre fans looking for the real deal.”
Chris Spector, Midwest Record
“Whether writing his own songs or reworking some of the classics, Treni and his band are a force to be reckoned with... If you are a fan of big band music this is an easy decision. Buy Boy's Night Out as soon as you can.”
John Neudorf, Sea of Tranquility
“The Michael Treni Big Band is like a well-oiled machine, with fine-tuned arrangements, overflowing with top notch soloists…Lovers of the big band format should be well pleased with this one.”
Don Albert, Artslink.co.za
This is a fine effort with a band that continues to evolve including saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi. The band is powerful yet subtle in delivery making this an enjoyable listening experience, especially with the strings as on "Here's That Rainy Day". Treni includes a few originals notably "In My Quiet Time" to balance a warm set that is rich and inviting.
D. Oscar Groomes, O's Place Jazz Magazine