Concert Review: George Garzone and Ralph Lalama @ Alias Cafe, 06/13/2023

Two old friends, George Garzone and Ralph Lalama, have shared the stage for many years. At Alias Cafe in Troy on Tuesday, they led a two-tenor sax quintet that included a trio of local jazz musicians.

Ralph Lalama hails from metro New York and is a regular at the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. He has been a familiar face on the local jazz scene. George Garzone, on the other hand, is from metro Boston and has made only rare appearances in the 518 area. He teaches at the Berklee School of Music and is part of The Fringe, a trio that has been together for 50 years.

Photo by Rudy Lu

As expected, and to the delight of both musicians and the standing-room-only audience, the two sets can be described as “Blowing Sessions.” These performances, mostly over jazz standards, are minimally written and allow the two saxophonists to play in harmony, both with and against each other. They complement and push each other to their limits, resulting in their best musical expression. The dialogue between them is friendly and not competitive; each musician strives to compliment and engage in a musical conversation with the other.

The evening opened with “I Hear a Rhapsody,” a popular tune from the 1940s made famous by Frank Sinatra and later covered by John Coltrane and many others in the ’50s. It was followed by Paul Desmond’s “Bossa Antigua.”

Ballads were also an integral part of the performance. The standard “I Want to Talk About You” showcased the beautiful balladry of George Garzone, with an expressive piano solo by Ian MacDonald.

Photo by Rudy Lu

Each of the two sets had its own tour de force moments. The first set concluded with a powerful rendition of John Coltrane’s “Mr. PC,” where both saxophonists engaged in blazing dialogue and unison playing, leaving the audience in awe and craving for more. “There Will Never Be Another You” seemed to signal another crescendo and a fitting finale. But, as the old Ronco TV commercials used to say, “And there’s more.” Ralph was featured in a captivating rendition of “Just One of Those Things.”

For the grand finale, local saxophonist Thom Avella joined the front line for “Take the Coltrane,” taking the audience on a fast-paced and swinging journey to the end of the evening.

Alias Cafe will continue to host these concerts periodically, so stay tuned for more exciting performances in the future.

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