Ralph Alessi – Quiver (2016)

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On “Window Goodbyes,” trumpet maestro Ralph Alessi is painting through music the imagery of his pre-school daughter waving goodbye to him through a window as he departs for a trip. It’s a bittersweet scene that’s played out on several occasions, and Alessi’s aching enunciation on his horn perfectly captures that sentiment. And then you realize why he had become Fred Hersch’s trumpet player of choice: Alessi is Fred Hersch, rendered through brass instead of ivory.

I make this analogy because the rare, believable emotion that Alessi is capable of channeling (and ECM founder/producer Manfred Eicher is capable of capturing) did much to make his 2013 release Baida such a well-received work. It’s the same thing that will make Quiver (February 26, 2016 from ECM Records” target=”_blank”>ECM Records) regarded as two home runs in a row for him.

Certainly much of the same formula was carried over; that starts with Alessi’s organically paced strains that have structures that exist solely to facilitate mood, movement and freedom. There’s also that rhythm section, his long time rhythm section of Drew Gress and Nasheet Waits, an elite pair.

Alessi and producer Eicher enable Waits to play at his peak level, who wastes little time in tossing in some tension on the peaceful solitude being sketched by Alessi and pianist Gary Versace on “Here Tomorrow.” Waits’ primary job on this group of performances has been to play to Alessi’s lead in contrapuntal rapport with Grees. On “I to I” where Alessi is in a slightly upbeat mood but graceful as always, Waits can spend his energies complementing the subtleties of that mood, because he can imply rhythm without actually keeping time so well. And his one-on-one with Alessi during a part of “Gone Today, Here Tomorrow” shows the high degree of telepathy between the two in sharp relief.

Combined with the ever accurate and astute Gress, the rhythm section invents something on every song. Their odd placement of notes and accents makes “Scratch” ever more mysterious than Versace’s noir chord selections are making it. Versace, by the way, is not his predecessor Jason Moran but he’s got the similarities where it counts in Alessi’s band, i.e., knowing where to fill space and knowing where to leave it. He leaves angular impressions with his solo turn on “Heist” and syncs with Alessi’s muted horn down jagged paths on “Gone Today” before peeling off to leave resonant single lines.

All of these excellent musicians simply excel under Alessi’s leadership. Combined with Ralph Alessi performing with such depth and earnest emotion, Quiver clears the bar that was set high by Baida.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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