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Concert Review: Ralph Lalama and BopJuice

The tenor saxophonist at Smalls, NYC, Jan. 2013

Ralph Lalama

Notwithstanding the essential role that records and CDs play in the documenting of an artist’s or ensemble’s work; or in the writing of jazz history; or the private pleasures they bring listeners and collectors; or the programming of radio shows, there’s nothing quite liking hearing musicians in person. I could cite numerous examples of singers and players whose work I’ve come to appreciate more from seeing them in performance than on record-in a few cases, even, artists I enjoy hearing in person never really do it for me on record.

The latter does not apply to tenor saxophonist Ralph Lalama, whose recorded work over the past 20 years has been a staple of [my radio program] Jazz a la Mode. Lalama has made several great records for Criss Cross Jazz, a critically acclaimed pair for Mighty Quinn, and his recent release, BopJuice: Live at Smalls, is fabulous. And while I’d seen Lalama a few times over the years with the Mel Lewis Orchestra and its successor, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, it’s only been in the past two years that I’ve seen him in the kind of small-group setting that most effectively showcases his great playing and charismatic style on the bandstand.

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