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For Ralph Lalama, living the jazz life means making ends meet by being involved with music on many disparate levels and in many various ways. The 48-year-old tenor man has been on the New York scene for several decades now, working as an educator, session musician, and leader of his own groups. Recent stints have also included a regular gig with the Village Vanguard and Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestras. Every so often though, he also manages to put together a pleasing record date for Criss Cross, with Music for Grown-Ups being his most recent and fifth for the label overall.
Don't let the title fool you, Lalama and crew aren't so solemn that they're consciously trying to be stuffy or aloof. Instead the idea here is to represent jazz as the intelligent art form that it is with a repertoire of standards and originals that will nonetheless speak volumes to an open-minded and willing audience. And while revisiting the jazz mainstream is not a new or even critically-popular idea these days, you can't help but admire and take sustenance from music that's done up this well. Fronting a modest (in size alone, I assure you) trio, Lalama is out front booting things along with that cavernous sound of his and a swing and swagger that is infectious.
For a sample of his be-bop chops and capacity to negotiate his own tricky sequence, Lalama's "Metro-North" is oddly structured in two ten-bar phrases of 4/4 that are followed by four more bars of 6/8. Taken at breakneck speed, it becomes an obstacle course that everyone manages to skirt with ease. A seductive vamp leads to a heartfelt take on the seldom-done, but attractive "Lullaby of the Leaves." More bop is served up in the guise of "Bacha Feelin'" and "Newk It," to be balanced by a lovely ballad reading of "Blue Gardenia" and the bossa beat of Ralph's "Nonchalant."
As talented a player as Lalama is it's taking nothing away from his efforts here to suggest that pianist Richard Wyands is absolutely rhapsodic throughout. Although he has always decidedly fit into the category of "talent deserving wider recognition," this date seems to find him in exquisite form and one wonders why he has had so few occasions to record as a leader himself. His past work with modern day masters Peter and Kenny Washington has also lead to a level of awareness and maturity that clearly inspires Lalama and elevates this set beyond your typical blowing session.
Track Listing: I've Never Been in Love Before, Metro-North, Lullaby of the Leaves, Bacha Feelin,' Blue Gardenia, Nonchalant, Newk It, Scoops.
Personnel: Ralph Lalama: tenor saxophone; Richard Wyands: piano; Peter Washington: bass; Kenny Washington: drums.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.