Ralph Alessi/Angelica Sanchez/Devin Gray

September 12, 2021

Melt All the Guns
Rataplan Records No #

Fundacja Sluchaj FSR 04/2021

Balancing two recognizable rhythm section instruments with only the capillary tones of a single trumpet is an unusual configuration. But fortunately these trios made up of veteran improvisers deal firmly and succinctly overcome these supposed impediments.

Each creates a unique program, separated, but not directly affected, by Covid-19 restrictions. The earlier pre-pandemic session Melt All the Guns was convened by New York drummer Devin Gray to interpret four of his compositions that reflect his disgust with the steady increase in American gun violence. His associates are trumpeter Ralph Alessi and pianist Angelica Sanchez. By inference themes on that disc also condemn the retrogressive policies of then-president Donald Trump, whose wrong-headed approach to Covid was one reason for the second CD’s creation. With tours cancelled and self isolating because of the pandemic, affiliated players from different parts of New York met with mandated distance to work through new compositions by each. Two, trumpeter Thomas Heberer and percussionist Joe Hertenstein are German born, while bassist Joe Fonda is an American.

Lacking lyrics and not agit-prop, the fierceness of Gray/Alessi/Sanchez’s playing matches the song titles from the introductory “Think about It” to the concluding “Protect our Environment” as well as the title tune. Drum pumps vie with bugling bursts and keyboard cascades before expanding the themes then settling into grace note relaxation. While the final “Protect our Environment” is a rather logical and impressionistic construction with distant brass slurs and place-marking drum plops, “Micro Waves” and the title tune are fiery. Setting the temperature higher as he ranges up the scale on the first, Alessi’s tone smears and plunger work are backed by keyboard rolls and heated shuffles and pops from the drummer. “Melt All the Guns” expresses frustration via Alessi’s carefully thought out triplets and Sanchez’s complex finger rolling only to have hard snare pumps (gunshots?) push the trumpet into expelling muffled peeps like a dying victim.

Replacing melancholy with motive, Remedy is a livelier effort since this suite of compositions was a partial remedy for Covid restrictions. Substituting the supple pumps of Fonda’s bass for Sanchez’s piano comping, ambulating pressure often completes Remedy’s sound picture. Propelled by drum pops, Heberer has plenty of ballast on which to rest his grace notes flutters, dissident squawks and plunger timbre evacuations. At the same time while Hertenstein’s creative ratamacues and pumps are more fluid than forceful, they never overwhelm the performance, but allow for two or three-part harmonies to affiliate and move narratives forward. The lengthy “You Are There-Roadmap 616-James J.” including sequences composed by the trumpeter and bassist is an example of this. Constantly moving, the initial reflective brass texture which moves up the scale in increments is doubled by a vibrating bass line before a quiet, almost a capella interlude tempers brass lightness with graininess until Heberer’s plunger tones mock the contrapuntal heaviness of a bass-drum duet. Finally the narrative climaxes with double-time bass plucks and animated brass squeaks,

Tripartite integrations illuminates many of the other tunes with Hertenstein’s subtle cymbal accents often as prominent as his march-tempo time keeping, turning tracks such as “Zebra” into light swingers. Meanwhile a moderated track like “For Wadada Leo Smith, Opus 1” gives Heberer space in which to express his appreciation for the other brass player, with his framework of buzzes, growls, graceful flutter and peeps affiliating with Fonda’s string slides. The bassist’s skilful use of string techniques ranging from spiccato to col legno, are highlighted as early as the first track, “The Closer You Are, The Further It Gets”. Otherwise his thumps and bumps affiliate with Hertenstein’s cymbal clashes and drum rolls as notably as they do with the trumpeter’s brassy mumbles and broken tone spits.

Overall it appears that any potential drawbacks implicit in a trio arrangement like this can easily be overcome by a combination of skills, ideas and cooperation. It can even happen with a pandemic raging.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Remedy: 1. The Closer You Are, The Further It Gets 2. For Wadada Leo Smith, Opus 2 3. Pink Umbrella-Panicballad 4. You Are There-Roadmap 616-James J. 5. Zebra 6. Fast #2 7. For Wadada Leo Smith, Opus 1 8. Waltz For Daisy

Personnel: Remedy: Thomas Heberer (trumpet); Joe Fonda (bass and flute) and Joe Hertenstein (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Melt: 1. Think about It 2. Jet Lag Party 3. Micro Waves 4. Melt All the Guns 5. Protect our Environment

Personnel: Melt: Ralph Alessi (trumpet); Angelica Sanchez (piano) and Devin Gray (drums