A few choice items from the American Popular Songbook, tunes by Wayne Shorter, Duke Pearson, and Stevie Wonder, plus three brief duo improvisations, all rendered in a recognizable mainstream style by a band that includes two primary soloists and a bass and drums team. On the face of it, Ralph Lalama's second Mighty Quinn release appears rather modest relative to the ever expanding, unceasing advance of jazz and improvised music in the 21st Century. Nevertheless, throughout the ten tracks of The Audience the group delivers something as substantial as their forward leaning colleagues. Lalama and his cohorts, who occasionally play gigs in venues outside of New York City, possess the requisite skill and inspiration to pull off a clean, uncluttered, and coherent group sound that is rooted in bebop but indebted to no one.
Much of what needs to be known about Lalama's tenor saxophone prowess as well as his discerning approach to the music is encompassed in the ballad "Portrait of Jennie." Sporting a sumptuous tone, his lovely interpretation of the head is a textbook example of how to take liberties with a song's melody without distorting its essence. He bursts in at the end of guitarist John Hart's solo and offers clusters of thick set runs. Speeding up and slowing down like a roller coaster, Lalama's ninety second cadenza ends the track in a manner that's both sturdy and spectacular.
Hart has a penchant for making a lot of things happen in the midst of a somewhat cool exterior. During two choruses on "Love Thy Neighbor," he expertly rides the sure footed, medium tempo swing of bassist Rick Petrone, and drummer Joe Corsello, nimbly scampers away at will, inserts reflective chords, quotes "I've Never Been In Love Before" and "I'm Beginning To See The Light," and offers ample helpings of a blues influenced, soul jazz vocabulary. Frankly, it is hard to think of many guitarists who are as good at fusing so many disparate strands.
Because there's nothing flashy or tumultuous about the support of Petrone and Corsello, it's easy to take for granted their essential contributions to the record. Regardless of the tempo or type of material, they invariably make their presence felt in an unostentatious manner. It's worth diverting attention away Lalama and Hart for awhile to discover just how good the bassist and drummer are at keeping things moving. On a relaxed rendition of "I'm an Old Cowhand," for example, they generate a smooth, flowing, seemingly effortless swing throughout the head and solos.
Contrary to the current glut of jazz recordings composed of bands filled with virtuosic, strong willed individuals who play at one another and compete for attention, The Audience is largely about cooperation and mutual support. Because of a willingness to heed the call of something larger than their own individual talents, Lalama and company have produced a deeply satisfying recording.
Personnel: Ralph Lalama: tenor saxophone; John Hart: guitar; Rick Petrone: bass; Joe Corsello: drums.