Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ralph Alessi and This Against That Are WIRY Strong...

Ralph Alessi
I've said it before on this blog: Ralph Alessi is one of my favorite trumpet players, and one of the most original trumpeters of the modern era. Alessi plays the trumpet with such technical ease and flexibility that it almost sounds like a synthesizer; some of the things he does just don't seem possible on the trumpet. (Alessi is one of the best sight-readers I've worked with. We've played in bands together with impossible music and Ralph always played like he wrote the music.)And yet, he uses his powers for good instead of evil;yes, he can play high notes and tricky fingerings, but he does it with the intellectual restraint more in line with Miles Davis or Chet Baker or Don Cherry, rather than a Maynard Ferguson machismo. His melodic and harmonic approach is very easily identifiable. You're more likely to hear Steve Coleman M-Base inspired intervallic discoveries as opposed to predictable trumpet-like phrases. (Alessi worked with Steve Coleman for many years.)And finally, Alessi's writing is unique. Alessi can create very concise structures for improvisation, which are challenging, but oftentimes the melodies (as well as the titles) are quite humorous. Furthermore, Alessi is a great free improviser.

Alessi's latest album is called Wiry Strong, and it features his longtime band This Against That. The music on the CD is mostly pre-composed strucutres, with a sprinkling of interludes of free improvisation. The opener, "Clown Painting" uses some slick audio effects to create a scary mood. "Racy Banter" is like Phillip Glass on steroids, a chaotic spontaneous ostinato, which in some ways, due to the masterful drumming of Mark Ferber, has a twisted interpretation of African polyrhythms feel to it. "Station Wagon" is the first official "tune" of the CD, and it sounds like 5 bars of 4/4 divided into subdivisions of 5/8. This track features a quirky, yet majestic piano solo by Andy Milne(who also had a long association with Steve Coleman). Alessi's solo is confident and smooth.

Alessi's whole approach to the trumpet is very streamlined, which allows him to play phrases which require much dexterity. He isn't hampered by attempting to have a huge sound;his sound is big enough to accomplish his musical goals. It's a focused, intense trumpet sound.

Ravi Coltrane has collaborated with Alessi for many years; he has many shining moments here, including an introspective solo on "A Dollar In Your Shoe," which is somewhat of  a dialogue with pianist Milne. Another great solo is on "Bizarro-World Moment", where Coltrane lets loose with some whole tone scale explorations. I would have liked to have heard more from Drew Gress, who is one of my favorite bass players, and a superb soloist as well as a great accompanist. Gress takes a gnarly, twisty excursion on "Sock Puppeteer".

I was fortunate to hear this group live during a recent trip to New York. The band was playing a late set at the 55 Bar in the Village, with Tony Malaby subbing for Ravi Coltrane. (Coltrane was there though, sitting at the bar, listening.) Alessi is great, his band is great. His music is great. I couldn't understand why they can't have a week at the Vanguard, or even a night at Carnegie Hall! Clearly, Ralph Alessi is talent deserving wider recognition. If you don't believe me, check out Wiry Strong. It's easily downloadable on itunes.

Check out Ralph Alessi's website here:


  1. A little off topic...I realize you expect all jazz musicians to get good reviews simply because of what they do. I just finished listening to the Zach Ginsburg and you do a wonderful job. Just my two cents. Review will post in a day or two.

  2. Ralph Alessi is a bad mother. Also love him with scott colley...

  3. sorry..josh ginsburg.
    and yes...ralph is hot.


    george on piano....not pandering. just stating the musical facts as i see em.

  5. Thank you!!! I agree Ralph should have more exposure.
    I've had the privilege to study with ralph a little and I think he is one of the most important improvisers/musical minds of our generation. I've heard him sitting across me playing some of the most incredible/beautiful stuff I've ever heard, he can make music out of anything.
    As an educator he's made a positive impact on a lot of young aspiring musicians. With a few words he's helped me improve greatly and encouraged me to keep at it. I can't say enough about him!!

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