An integral part of projects led by pianist Uri Caine and saxophonists Steve Coleman and Ravi Coltrane since the early '90s, and a founder of the School for Improvised Music (SIM), trumpeter Ralph Alessi nevertheless remains under the radar. Look, just his fourth release as a leader, convincingly counters this oversight.
Alessi is a modernist who uses expanded forms, complex rhythms and a broad harmonic spectrum to explore the confluence of composition and improvisation. But the music also flows from tradition and has strong melodies. Its flawless execution ensures the difficult passages feel good, never obtuse or off-putting. It's edgy enough to appeal to the creative set, while not too far flung for modern mainstream listeners. The taut balancing is deftly maintained by Alessi and This Against Thatpianist Andy Milne, bassist Drew Gress, drummer Mark Ferber and guest saxophonist Ravi Coltrane.
The spry "Near Cry launches the CD with its jaunty, tightly wound head that nods to Alessi's modern-classical influences. "At the Seams also typifies a pronounced compositional touch and provides a vehicle for Gress' imaginative thrumming. Conversely, "The Tooth Fairy and Pistol Pete and "Sir are amorphous, with ample space and time to leisurely reveal themselves.
During a March 6, 2007 performance at SIM, Alessi varied the program by alternating the knotty, highly-structured pieces with the more spacious, impressionistic ones. Ravi Coltrane, who sat in for the entire set (not just the four pieces he played on the CD), added solo sparks and enriched the tunes by doubling or contrasting Alessi's lines, their affinity obvious. The leader, though laconic interacting with the crowd, loquaciously soloed, unfurling long, unbroken lines of round, articulate notes that expanded from and referenced the written music. Substitutes Ben Street (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums) tackled the complex material, naturally supporting and coloring the proceedings with their sensibilities and optimizing their chances to stretch.
Track Listing: Near Cry; It's Just a Toy; At the Seams; Hands; The Tooth Fairy and Pistol Pete; Lap Nap; Brown Hat; Look; Words, Actions; Platform Velvet; Old Beady Eyes; Sir.
Personnel: Ralph Alessi: trumpet, flugelhorn; Andy Milne: piano; Drew Gress: bass; Mark Ferber: drums; Ravi Coltrane: tenor saxophone (2, 8, 10, 11).
Fitzell lives in Brooklyn (in a neighborhood full of great musicians) and his work has also appeared in The Villager and Downtown Express newspapers and The Independent Film and Video Monthly magazine, among others.