Danish drummer and composer Terkel Nørgaard had American trumpeter Ralph Alessi in mind for this project even while writing and developing the 21 sketches, of which seven ultimately made it onto the rumbling and rolling of positive energy that is the accordingly-titled With Ralph Alessi. The ECM aesthetic, which Ralph Alessi is known for, is omnipresent but not all-consuming. A sense of ease guides this quartet through uncharted territory and demonstrates a collaboratively joyous spirit.
Chord voicings are laid out in an open fashion on this record, filled with fourths and sixths on keys which elegantly lead down exciting chains of harmonic progressions. A sense of spontaneity is prevalent throughout, and especially prominent in the interplay between trumpet and piano. Alessi's high trumpet soars are pulled back to the ground by the thunderous bass growls that Jesper Thorn defiantly plucks at will. Determined snare hits and meticulous cymbal-work with a patient sustain complete the picture that makes for an engaging soundscape.
As on Alessi's latest release Imaginary Friends (ECM, 2019) the compositions here often start out with a simple pattern or rhythmic impulse that is developed over the course of the tune and uncovers a rivalry between the players as demonstrated on the opening track, "One." One big constant crescendo in itself, the song finds piano and trumpet complementing each other with some ambivalence, inconspicuously alternating between harmony and slight dissonance. Nørgaard's engaging drum work is the driving force that tickles the bop lines out of the trumpet on the more-or-less harmonically compact expositions ("seventeen," "ten") on top of which the piano draws dynamic patterns.
The dichotomous reciprocity of construction and deconstruction is reflected in the many facets that, upon initial inspection, appear contrasting: the afore-mentioned harmony versus dissonance, high brass cries versus low bass blows, and melodic as well as rhythmic motifs interlocking and subsequently breaking away from one another again. At their core, "twenty-one" and "nineteen" have these concepts in common, but end up going in opposite directions, the former progressively searching for harmonic reconciliation while the latter sees the argument escalating. In the context of these juxtapositions, even the two more-or-less straightforward structures, the funky drum-heavy "thirteen" and contemplative ballad "twelve," inhabit a provocative and defying position on the album.
The variety and love for detail on display here is impressive, to say the least. Not only does Terkel Nørgaard deliver more than a handful of carefully-crafted compositions, but he has also chosen a cast of musicians that is able to fill those ominously large shoes. A beautiful recording of terrific musicianship.
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