Beat Records,Vancouver BC 01)

Ralph Alfonso scores a palatable and palpable hit with this ambitious merger of words and music, on several of the cuts, lyrics and presentation quite nicely blur the line between faux and legit nouveau bohemianism.

A stylist with a deft self-promotional touch and sense of balance, and perhaps a hint of relaxed self-effacement, Alfonso elicits a quirkiness that surprises with succeeding cuts, and invites the listener on. Cleary a devotee of the 1950s Manhattan beat and bohemian scene, he pays homage to jazz clubs, blondes, Kerouac and Coltrane, yet manages to draw us into his Montrealese origin, inviting us to cruise with him in his car through the Canadian city night, roll down the window, and listen to tunes while the early morning bakers make rhubarb pie.

Literary merit aside, Alfonso frequently creates a happy merger of word and music on this CD which exhibits a not inconsiderable musical range. He calls himself "Beat Lite," yet Ralph waxes moody and contemplative and funky by turn, coming on early with a Clint Eastwood terseness ("Wet Cigarette"), does a barrelhouse roll or two ("Midnight In Manhattan") and later devolves into a be-boppy sound that elevates ("Sorry Man, I Gotta Go"). There are ballads and torch songs in there too; and he is at his playful best in cuts like "Why Does My Paul Desmond Records Start Skipping When I Try To Kiss You."

And his devotional Kerouac pieces (a contemplative solo "Pull My Daisy" and the more fluid and lyrical "Goodbye Jack Kerouac") are memorable.

But it is in the title track ("This is for the Night People") and in his homage to John Coltrane ("John Coltrane New York City") that Ralph reaches orbit. In the first, the bouncing happy cruise through Montreal West "winding around the little sleepy avenues where everybody's tired, even the trees are tired...this is the best feeling in the world when I roll my window down and breathe that cold air in my lungs because who is playing that saxophone on the Rideau Canal?" Ralph's breezy vocals are driven forward with the percussion of Ron Stelting, and brought to a smooth finish through the phenomenal jazz guitar work of Dave Rave (Teenage Head). As for the Coltrane piece, it is Alfonso himself who provides the zen-simple "four beat and a wrinkle" high hat sound as the saxophone work of Graham Howell soars.

Alfonso is well publicized in the Vancouver area, with a documentary, several computer generated animated pieces set to his work, and his retro 50s era beat poetry fan zine "Ralph," which features "Beatniks, coffee, Paris, jazz, poetry, thoughts, opinions, cool drawings, photographs, and lots of teeny tiny type." Not a retiring fellow, Alfonso happily details his migration through the world of self-published poetry and poster printing, to punk band management and stints in the recording industry. Here's how he describes his breakthrough into music and spoken word. "I was invited into Morningside, the most listened to radio show on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, where I was accompanied by a guitarist and a bongo player," he recalls. "The very next day, I received the first of 300 letters. One thing led to another and suddenly there were live shows in clubds and coffeehouses, and CDs." Apocryphal? Camp? Serious? Beat Lite or not with his latest CD, Ralph Alfonso's still offering up plenty of delights and surprises.