Tenor saxophonist Ralph Lalama is a respected jazz journeyman probably best known for his more than 25-year tenure with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. He's also played and recorded with the Joe Lovano Nonet, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band and drummer Joe Morello's group, among others. But he's had relatively few opportunities to record as a leader. His 2008 release, the well-received Energy Fields (Mighty Quinn), was his first in over a decade and his first ever for a US label. So it's nice to see him back so soon with a worthy follow-up.
Lalama is a powerhouse soloist who has forged his own sound by fusing the styles of various tenor sax forebears, Sonny Rollins being the most apparent. He and his fine quartet (John Hart on electric guitar, Rick Petrone on bass and Joe Corsello on drums) explore a nicely varied set including modern jazz standards like Wayne Shorter's mid-tempo gem "Marie Antoinette" and Duke Pearson's complex blues "Minor League." They even revisit "I'm an Old Cowhand," a tune Rollins helped introduce to the jazz world on his landmark 1957 Riverside album , and dig up "Love Thy Neighbor," a Bing Crosby hit from the 1930s, later recorded by John Coltrane. Lalama showcases his exquisite ballad chops on "Portrait of Jennie," another tune covered by Rollins, and lays down some bluesy, hard-edged funk with Hart on Stevie Wonder's "Livin' for the City." In addition, three brief, duo improvisations spotlight his talented band members.
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