Ralph Alessi & This Against That, Look

Charles Farrell

By Charles Farrell

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Trumpeter/flugelhornist Ralph Alessi is a forward-thinking bandleader whose work has garnered a lot of critical attention. (Critic Nate Chinen, in a New York Times review, talked about Alessi's “prodigious trumpet technique.”) He's also been a ubiquitous fixture on the New York downtown scene, playing in a wide variety of settings. Look justifies the buzz surrounding him.

Serene, articulate, vaguely playful and beautifully recorded album justifies the buzz.

A serene, articulate, vaguely playful, and beautifully recorded album, Look seems to be Alessi's homage to themes of childhood. In some respects, it is similar in approach to the work of fellow trumpeter Dave Douglas (whose playing bears some resemblance to Alessi's). One irony is that, in spite of the very strong presence of pianist Andy Milne, the album's most visible stylistic antecedent is in the small group recordings of Ornette Coleman. Ornette always uses strong bassists, and Look is propelled by the very forceful playing of bassist Drew Gress, who combines a beautiful sound with a confidently virtuosic foundation. He is capable of simultaneously rooting the music while adding commentary and dialogue to the frontline players.

A word about Andy Milne: Very few pianists today are his equal as an accompanist. With his quick, light chording, he darts in and out of the narrative, suggesting ways in which the music might move but never dictating its direction. Herbie Hancock seems to be his model. Drummer Mark Ferber maintains the right combination of propulsion and tonal embellishment. He's an aggressive drummer who suggests more volume than he actually employs. It's a good strategy for Alessi's compositions. Finally, tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane joins the quartet on four of the twelve tracks. Although still not in possession of a unique voice, Coltrane has made great strides in the last few years and is now a saxophonist to be taken seriously.

Look places itself squarely equidistant between mainstream and avant-garde jazz. Ralph Alessi is able to balance things well enough to satisfy listeners in either camp.