Entries tagged with “Ralph Alessi”.

My monthly list of recommended CDs, as published in The New York City Jazz Record, October 2013:

Ralph Alessi, Baida (ECM)

Geri Allen, Grand River Crossings: Motown & Motor City Inspirations (Motéma)

Samuel Blaser Consort In Motion, A Mirror to Machaut (Songlines)

Linda Oh, Sun Pictures (Greenleaf)

Mario Pavone, Arc Trio (Playscape)

Leron Thomas, Whatever (ind.)

This review appears in the July 2011 issue of The New York City Jazz Record.

Ralph Alessi & This Against That
Wiry Strong (Clean Feed)

By David R. Adler

There’s a good deal of continuity between Wiry Strong, the latest release from trumpeter Ralph Alessi’s This Against That, and previous efforts such as Look, a 2007 outing with the same personnel. A key difference, however: tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, a “special guest” on four tracks from Look, is now billed as a full-fledged quintet member. Between the two frontline horns, Andy Milne’s spacious piano and the rugged, textural rhythm of bassist Drew Gress and drummer Mark Ferber, Alessi gives himself an enticing range of options. He goes the route of tight orchestration, spiky melodies, darkly suggestive harmony and flowing improvised dialogue, hard-edged but not without a certain tenderness on numbers such as “Halves and Wholes” and “Mira.”

Of the 15 tracks, all are Alessi’s originals save for four collectively composed pieces: “Pudgy,” “Racy Banter,” “Celebrity Golf Classic” and the opening “Clown Painting.” Curiously, these brief abstract sketches, marked by odd timbres and repeating rhythmic patterns, are recorded a bit louder than the main body of the album, giving the disc a slightly uneven aural effect (perhaps the intention of co-producers Alessi and Tim Berne). Elsewhere, subtle overdubbed trumpet backgrounds on “Station Wagon Trip,” “Halves and Wholes” and the closing “Wiry Strong” enhance the chamber-jazz aspects of Alessi’s writing. The playing is sonorous and vibrant, although at 72 minutes the program drags in spots; it’s a hair too long.

Drummers are key to Alessi’s springy, funk-inflected rhythmic language, as Nasheet Waits proved on the trumpeter’s laser-focused 2010 quartet outing Cognitive Dissonance. On Wiry Strong it is Mark Ferber who lends momentum and wide-ranging percussive colors: martial snare patterns on “Bizarro-World Moment,” rolling toms on “20% of the 80%,” skittering motion on “A Dollar in Your Shoe,” rubato musings leading to a bright, surging tempo on “Medieval Genius.” But repeat listens drive home how every band member — not least of all Alessi with his soaring and allusive horn — brings this complex contrapuntal world into relief.

This review appears in the February 2011 issue of All About Jazz-New York.

Scott Colley, Empire (CAM Jazz)
By David R. Adler

The title Empire could lead one to think that bassist Scott Colley’s seventh album is an artistic comment on foreign policy. In fact, Empire is a now-vanished town in Kansas where Colley’s great-great-grandfather, Joseph J. Colby, settled in the early 1870s. The town, bypassed by an important new railroad, was abandoned by 1880 and is now “nothing more than crop fields and grass,” according to Amy Bickel, who wrote about Colley and Empire for the Kansas periodical The Hutchinson News.

On some level, then, Empire is an Americana project, and guitarist Bill Frisell proves the ideal partner. (He’s also sideman to Kermit Driscoll, another bassist-bandleader, on Driscoll’s new album Reveille.) Of course, the Frisell sound is identifiable right away — chiming harmonics, bent but lustrous chords and subtle electronic tweaks evoking wide and eerie landscapes — and yet Colley’s writing retains its own strong character. It helps that Colley shuffles his personnel, adding or omitting Frisell, trumpeter Ralph Alessi and pianist Craig Taborn along the way to enhance the session’s variety.

Colley’s most hard-nosed writing comes on the first two tracks, “January” and “The Gettin Place,” where he deploys Frisell and Alessi at bold, jutting angles and sets up the tightest asymmetric grooves. Taborn doesn’t appear until the fourth track, “5:30 am,” his singing lyricism set against the churning, elastic rhythm of drummer Brian Blade. Taborn remains for “Speculation,” a piano trio piece with something of a floating, Tony Williams-Wayne Shorter vibe. It’s rich to hear Frisell and Taborn, on separate tracks, dealing with Colley’s harmonic concepts in analogous ways.

Frisell returns for a duo with Colley, “Tomorrowland,” a dissonant sketch that brilliantly captures the mood of the album cover (an ancient photo of Colby and family outside their Empire, Kansas home). Later, “Gut” finds Alessi in another duo with the leader. Then the full band convenes, for the first and only time, on the slow-swinging “Five-Two.” Frisell, Taborn and Alessi take it out as a trio on “Five-Two.2,” which functions as a spooky coda.

Colley’s own bass role is assertive: He’s a melodic ensemble voice and a frequent soloist. But it’s his instincts about pacing and dynamics that make Empire worth exploring in depth.

From the February 2011 issue of All About Jazz-New York:

Sullivan Hall was one of five venues to host Winter Jazzfest 2011, but the bookings in that room, handled by the presenting organization Revive Da Live, skewed decidedly toward a jazz/hip-hop hybrid aesthetic. That certainly didn’t mean swing was unwelcome. So on the festival’s second night (Jan. 8th), Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band swung, and without apology, offering a sound that was vehement, buoyant and transporting. Evans led from the piano but left much of the cueing to trombone veteran Frank Lacy, who bobbed and swayed to the music and palpably increased the exhilaration in the room. Bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Donald Edwards also didn’t relent. This new Philadelphia-born unit knew exactly how to tailor a short festival set — they played only three of Evans’ tunes but drove them home with urgency and heart. First came “Captain Black,” a midtempo swinger arranged by altoist Todd Bashore. Next was the furiously churning modal waltz “The Sluice,” arranged by Lacy. And last came the slow syncopated 4/4 of “Easy Now,” which Evans dedicated to recently departed Philly greats including Trudy Pitts, Sid Simmons and Charles Fambrough. As baritone saxophonist Mark Allen scaled the heights in a withering solo, the rest of the band — Chelsea Baratz and Victor North on reeds, Duane Eubanks on trumpet, Brent White on trombone, plenty more — began a melodious chant (“ea … sy … now…”) and kindled a fleeting connection with the sacred. (David R. Adler)


The atmosphere at Winter Jazzfest is thoroughly come-and-go, friendly to immersive listening but also to skimming the surfaces of the countless bands on display. So one had to hand it to the James Carney Group, which played Kenny’s Castaways on night two (Jan. 8th) and held the close attention of a good-sized crowd throughout a challenging, dynamically varied set. The band was a brass-centric, slightly smaller version of the one Carney employed on his Songlines releases Green-Wood (2007) and Ways and Means (2009). Carney’s saxophone regulars (Tony Malaby, Peter Epstein) were absent, but trombonist Josh Roseman, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, bassist Chris Lightcap and drummer Mark Ferber filled the small bandstand and wended their way through Carney’s compositions “Grassy Shoal Hoedown,” “In Lieu of Crossroads” and “The Poetry Wall,” balancing stormy and angular groove-making and quasi-minimalist abstraction. The house Fender Rhodes, as Ben Ratliff noted in the Times, gave the bands appearing at Kenny’s a too-similar sound, although the fact that Rhodes is an integral part of Carney’s canvas gave him a distinct advantage. He sounded at home, offering dense but non-claustrophobic harmony, prodding the soloists into open-ended exchanges and generous moments in the spotlight. There was a noticeable extra jolt whenever Alessi started to blow — an intensity and clarity of purpose that made all the casual listeners look up and get serious. (DA)