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Ralph Lalama: Circle Line

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Circle Line is the kind of album that sends tenor players back to the woodshed. The underrated Lalama, a veteran of bands led by Herman, Rich, Jones-Lewis, et. al., gets a burly sound on the instrument, negotiates the changes fearlessly and uses the low register boldly in the manner of Joe Henderson and Sonny Rollins. In fact, Rollins is one of his heroes, and this album is reminiscent of the master’s The Bridge. His quartet includes Peter Bernstein on guitar, Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums. Bernstein’s Jim Hall-like style adds further to The Bridge analogy, as does “Without a Song,” one of the tunes from that album. But enjoyment of this album does not hinge on one’s familiarity with the Rollins album. It is enough to dig Lalama’s hard-charging bebop lines on the title track, his relaxed approach to Trane’s “Giant Steps,” the Dexter-ish cast to “You Are Too Beautiful” and the Monk-ish flavor of his “Dark Chocolate.”