Better late than never: Ralph Lalama has given us an altogether challenging and entertaining CD. His latest, Energy Fields, seems to use the least instrumentation to make the most joyous sound.
In a quartet where the guitar is the "chording" instrument (rather than some type or combination of keyboard), sound tends to drift in a lighter and more airy clime. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But to fill up the sonic space one needs a proficient bass player (present), a very full-sounding main soloist (also present), combined with a fine guitarist (present number three), and tasteful percussion (lots of presents: Merry Christmas!).
Saxophonist Lalama’s sound and rhythmic phrasing remind one of Dexter Gordon, without LTD’s sometimes annoying quotes from other tunes. You begin to wonder why Lalama is not more well-known; he possesses all an instrumentalist needs: chops, taste, integrity, etc.
His group plays at or near the same level as their boss. Guitarist John Hart tosses various influences (most noticeably Pat Metheny and Jim Hall, but not confined to those two) into a tasty guitar salad. It was necessary to search this critic’s dusty memory for bassist Petrone; but there he was on two of Maynard Ferguson’s best big band albums, MF Horn 4& 5: Live at Jimmy’s and Chameleon. Both are treasures for true Ferguson disciples. Drummer Joe Corsello played with Petrone before on The Steve Marcus Project, and is a happily busy percussionist who manages to retain good taste.
The CD itself is a blend of jazz at its best. Woody Shaw’s "Moontrane" is an exciting opener; it shows the band at its melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic best. Lalama has no trouble with Shaw’s, well, "Traneish" changes. Bird’s "Buzzy" follows, its theme presented in a hilarious dissonance. Needless to say, the band shows mighty chops.
Rather than run down the multitudinous highlights of Ralph Lalama’s Energy Fields, just remember to thank this critic in the morning. Buy this one!