It's time for trumpeter Ralph Alessi to step out from his role as a sideman and flex his muscular jazz talents.
Originally from the West Coast and trained at the California Institute For The Arts, Alessi moved to New York to find plenty of work in diverse bands led by Ravi Coltrane, Sam Rivers, Uri Caine, and Steve Coleman. From Coleman's M-BASE neo-funk, to Uri Caine's reworking of Mahler and Bach, and the outward looking Rivers he was always the player one's attention turned toward. A quiet technician, not unlike Dave Douglas, there is a confidence in his sound not in his swagger.
The release of these two sessions led by Alessi reveals even more about the man. The quintet recording This Against That showcases his writing and arranging, while Vice & Virtue a mostly duets record, is all about improvising and technique.
Alessi's quintet supplemented by pianist Jason Moran and poet Julie Patton works through complex arrangements throughout the 70+ minutes of music. Joined by clarinetist Don Byron and M-BASE partner David Gilmore the trumpeter runs the paces of a thoroughly post-modern sound. He takes us on a cabaret march 'Haw Hee,' plays through a straight-ahead trio frame on 'Elaine,' and swoops a heavy blues on the closing track 'Mahalia.' In between is intricate and heady stuff. Byron is game, sounding a fresh and rounded as ever. Alessi draws from his collected experiences of post-bop, neo-classical, and post-modern music here. At times, he's back in his M-BASE bag playing what sounds like math equations, but the next track his beautiful lyricism is front and center. Alessi's writing calls for bassist Drew Gress and drummer Nasheet Waits to loom large, making for compelling music.
With the heady stuff aside, Alessi's duets with drummer (and sometimes trumpeter) Shane Endsley are all about playing. Covering music by Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, and Carl Bley allows for some serious messing around. The more emotional of the two sessions, these duets showcase technique, technique, and technique. His take on Monk's 'Bye Ya' is raw yet rhythmic. Alessi matches the aggrieved nature of Endsley's playing with slurred wit and vitality. They take on Ornette's 'Peace' twice, both times conjuring Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell with all respect to their other worldliness. Trombonist Tim Albright for a three-horn dance occasionally joins the two. Alessi shines throughout.
Both discs are recommended highly.