Sometimes, small works better. That's evidenced by the plethora of jazz trio recordings released in 2008. One instrument can make a dramatic difference. That's where the Ralph Lalama Quartet comes in. Energy Fields
is like a trio with additional versatility.
Tenor saxophonist Lalama is joined on this effort by guitarist John Hart, bassist Rick Petrone, and drummer Joe Corsello. All came of age during the period when John Coltrane and Miles Davis put their stamps on jazz. Collectively, their stage and recording associations include Benny Goodman, Marian McPartland, Maynard Ferguson, Woody Herman, and Buddy Rich, among others.
Woody Shaw's "The Moontrane" starts this set. Lalama's rich tenor leads this jaunt. But the sidemen are very effective, particularly Hart's rhythm track and Corsello's mixing of snare, toms, and cymbals. Some emphatic rolls here and there help highlight the tune.
"Nonchalant," the only original song on the album, is a mellow piece. Hart's subtle guitar fills in nicely and he contributes a nice solo. Petrone is fluid on bass, while Corsello shifts to mallets in lieu of sticks, giving the toms a rich texture. Through it all, Lalama plays to his heart's contentstructured but unrestrained.
Hart arranged the cool-beat cover of the classic "Old Folks." Petrone shines during a bass solo. Lalama gets his licks in, but it's mostly Hart at the front. Corsello keeps things steady throughout.
The quartet keeps things going with Wayne Shorter's "United." Hart leads early on, while Petrone and Corsello sizzle in the background. Lalama then takes over, putting the tenor through some crisp, rapid-fire riffs, followed by a Petrone solo.
From start to finish, the quartet is in synch. Each song is of moderate length, giving the musicians plenty of time to stretch out, but without causing the music to drag. Though eight of the nine songs are covers, Lalama and his companions put a strong, personal stamp on them.