Ralph Alessi & This Against That

Look
Between the Lines BTLCHR 71213 (www.allegro-music.com)

A jazz educator as well as an active performer, trumpeter and flugelhornist Ralph Alessi displays his writing, arranging and playing talents in this set of 12 originals, many of whose melodies are as instantly familiar-sounding as they are inventive.

Assured enough to gig with leaders as different as M-Base saxophonist Steve Coleman and post-modern pianist Uri Caine, Alessi not only teaches jazz at universities, but directs a Brooklyn-based improvisational workshop. His self-possessed combo on Look evokes a more cohesive, updated Miles Davis combo. Playing Herbie Hancock to Alessi’s Davis, is former Torontonian Andy Milne, whose chiming, veloce cadences and rhythmic patterning, confirm the tradition-oriented chops of a keyboardist, celebrated for his electric contributions to the bands of Coleman, and other M-Basers.

Reinforcing the Davis connection on four tracks is Ravi Coltrane, although the self-effacing tenor saxophonist is no Trane-clone. Instead he limits himself to non-discordant coloring trills and double counterpoint with Alessi. Deploying the beat in lock-stop, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Mark Ferber together are the converse of Davis’ famously showy rhythm sections. Unlike those drummers, Ferber’s perfectly paced tempo shifts and pulse resonation are subtle enough to almost register subliminally; while Gress’ dramatic walking and rubato inventions are more upfront than Davis’ bassists’ lines ever were.

Ranging from sombre and dramatic portraits to taut foot-tappers, the compositions share easygoing harmonies and never squander a note. Alessi’s trumpet solos, meanwhile, rely on cunning tonguing and unexpected brassy flourishes. Worth a listen more than a Look, a second glance does suggest that some extended tracks would have been welcome, however.

— Ken Waxman

CODA Issue 334