Is it possible to be structured and free at the same time? If you say "No, then you need to take a long look at Look, the latest release from Ralph Alessi & This Against .Alessi's airy horn was a key component of the boundary-stretching Uri Caine Ensemble Plays Mozart (Winter & Winter, 2007). Look shows Alessi is out to expand his personal artistic frontiers as well as create an atmosphere where his partners can make their own voices heard. Not only does Alessi achieve both goals, but he also demonstrates that establishing and maintaining a disciplined framework is no hindrance to creativity.
Only one piece on Look"Old Beady Eyes, one of four tracks featuring Ravi Coltrane's luminous tenorgoes longer than five-plus minutes. Conventional jazz wisdom says five minutes isn't enough time to clear your throat. Alessi and his associates don't just clear their throats; they clear the decks. "Near Cry sets the tone for Look as Alessi and keyboardist Andy Milne fly formation on the head, establishing a dynamic they return to throughout the disc. Once Alessi starts to solo the band's Monk-like groove gets hotter and his playing gets harder, weirder, and even more compelling than before. You will bob your head to this tune, and it won't be the only time that happens.
Alessi doesn't have the Satchmo-quality high end possessed by Terence Blanchard and Ron Horton. While Alessi lacks power and polish he is rich with expression, both in his playing and his writing. He approximates a flute sound on "Hands, a lovely piece of mellow bebop, while his gravel-coated trumpet flies up and away on "Lap Nap, one of many places where Alessi and Milne solo against each other to make a gorgeous cacophony. "Brown Hat is a hymn to Alessi's late father, but the energy and inspiration driving the piece make it a celebration of life, not a place of mourning.
Milne is astounding, a willing foil and dedicated co-conspirator all the way through: His Morse Code-like riff on "It's Just A Toy sets a beginning and ending place for the piece, while the rest of the band builds a structure that both pleases and amazes. His lines on "Sir come together with Mark Ferber's percussion to create a spiritual Asian aesthetic. Ferber and bassist Drew Gress (who played with Alessi on Caine's Mozart tribute) take full advantage of Alessi's collaborative atmosphere, keeping the foundation both interesting and eventful while making their own solo imprints on the date.
It's a shame Coltrane isn't on every track here: His tenor effortlessly drives pieces like "Old Beady Eyes and "It's Just A Toy, and his interplay with Alessi is breathtaking, particularly when they dance in the clear on the title track. But this disc isn't about individuals, even though the individual performances are brilliant. Look is about harmonyharmony of sound, and harmony of effort, all leading to a sincerely satisfying result.
It's Just a Toy;
At the Seams;
The Tooth Fairy and Pistol Pete;
Old Beady Eyes;
Ralph Alessi: trumpet, flugelhorn; Andy Milne: piano; Drew Gress: bass; Mark Ferber: drums; Ravi Coltrane:
tenor saxophone (2,8,10,11).