Two of the inaugural three releases on RKM Music rely on the talents of Ralph Alessi, which all things considered bodes very well for the new label. The three letters in the label's name embody the first initials of executive producer Ravi Coltrane, his wife Kathleen Hennessy, and reedman Michael McGinnis. But their stated goal is to place control over recording solely in the hands of the artists.
Vice & Virtue proudly displays the talents of drummer Shane Endsley alongside Alessi's trumpet collection, plus trombonist Tim Albright popping his head in now and then for added texture. The latter two share an affiliation with Steve Coleman, something you might not notice if you weren't paying attention. (Nice to see alumni from the Coleman school taking up their own torch.)
Unlike other horn/drums collaborations, this one assiduously avoids fire in favor of bubbles and steam. Alessi's warm tone and lyrical orientation help smooth over any sharp edges which might result from Endsley's percolating underpinnings. Even when he builds from small phrases (as on "If I Should Lose You") you have the feeling of undulating flowand when he rises to a full boil on the same tune, it remains somehow gentle in his hands. Swing, out jam, sure. Adventurism need not be cataclysmic or aggressive, an oft-neglected fact.
Endsley's playing on Vice & Virtue, however active and imaginative it may be, tends to play a subordinate role to Alessi's elaborations on the horn. Endsley adopts a supportive stance for the most part, occasionally bursting out, as he does in snippets on "Everyday Work"; or riding closely in the full canter of "Soy Ink." He shows a dramatic versatility and an unusually intimate relationship with the leader.
Half of these tunes are original compositions and the rest are scattered around the progressive continuum. The disc opens and closes with soft renditions of Ornette Coleman's "Peace," altogether appropriate given Alessi's timbral orientation and his lack of fear when it comes to crossing bar lines and defying harmonic conventions.
When trombonist Tim Albright joins in (on four tracks) he rounds out the low end quite sensitively; Shane Endsley also does a nice job complementing Alessi on the occasions he picks up the trumpet. But no matter what free associations might develop as a result of this open improv, the direction of the record remains in the hands of the leader. Which is a good thing if you ask me, given the quirky sensitivity of Vice & Virtue.
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Personnel: Ralph Alessi: trumpet, flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet;
Shane Endsley: trumpet, drums. Special guest Tim Albright: trombone.