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The Dave Lalama Big Band: The Hofstra Project

Dan Bilawsky By

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Pianist Dave Lalama is living proof that the divide between real-world practitioner and first-class educator is often imaginary. Lalama's résumé includes time spent with super singers like Eddie Jefferson and Anita O'Day, and big band icons like Road Father Woody Herman and super drummer Buddy Rich, but these performance credits don't tell the whole story about this artist-cum-teacher. From the early '80s onward, he was passing on his knowledge to the next generation through his work at institutions like New York University and the Manhattan School of Music, but he also ventured out of the city and set up shop due east, at Long Island's Hofstra University. Lalama has been a staple of the music program at that well-regarded institution for more than a quarter century, during which time he's forged a deep and lasting connection with numerous students, colleagues and guest artists; many of these very individuals show their affection for Lalama and his program through their work on The Hofstra Project.

The roster for this Lalama-led big band outing is stacked with Hofstra alums, well-known figures from the city scene—such as man-about-town trumpeter Glenn Drewes and trombonist John Mosca—and Hofstra colleagues, like trumpeter Leon Petruzzi and drummer Tony Tedesco. This ad hoc admixture may raise eyebrows and engender skepticism in those that are simply reading about this date, but the proof is in the hearing; not a slouch exists within this group. They burn ("The Song Isn't You"), swoon ("Duke Ellington's Sound Of Love") and blow the blues ("Full House" and "Blues For...") with the best of 'em. Along the way, certain figures, like saxophonist Dave Pietro, continually pop up as strong go-to soloists, but Lalama also knows that spreading the wealth is important; he's just as likely to lean on the veterans as he is to let one of the younger band members spread their wings and fly.

The playlist revolves around jazz classics and originals that were born from the history of this music, but it all smacks of Lalama's writerly touches; he arranged and/or wrote everything here, from Thelonious Monk-influenced originals like "No Evidence" and "St. Thelonious" to the bouncy recasting of "Where Are You," which features a wonderful, calypso-tinged encounter between Pietro, on soprano saxophone, and the man of the hour. Other album highlights include "Moody's Mood For Love," which does just fine without words and, at one point, juxtaposes the high against the low; "Tricotism," which puts bassist Pete Coco in the spotlight; and "The Song Isn't You," which features Mosca, Drewes, Tedesco, and the leader's well-known sibling—tenor saxophonist Ralph Lalama.

Dave Lalama has played with the best of them over the years but, judging from this CD, it's safe to say that his work in education may actually prove to be his greatest contribution to the jazz community.

Track Listing: Full House; Where Are You; No Evidence; Duke Ellington's Sound Of Love; Inner Urge; Pent-Up House; Moody's Mood For Love; St. Thelonious; Tricotism; The Song Isn't You; The Peacocks; Blues For...; Evansville.

Personnel: Dave Pietro: alto saxophone, flute, soprano saxophone; Jonathan Holford: alto saxophone; Ralphn Lalama: tenor saxophone; John Marshall: tenor saxophone; Jeff Lange: baritone saxophone; Leon Petruzzi: trumpet, flugelhorn; Mike Rubinstein: trumpet, flugelhorn; Glenn Drewes: trumpet, flugelhorn (3, 5-7, 9-11, 13); Nathan Warner: trumpet, flugelhorn (1, 2, 4, 8, 12); Mike Carubia: trumpet, flugelhorn; John Mosca: trombone; Brent Chiarello: trombone; Joey Devassy: trombone; Justin Comito: bass trombone; Dave Lalama: piano; Pete Coco: bass; Tony Tedesco: drums.

Title: The Hofstra Project | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Self Produced

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