Ralph Alessi – Baida
(ECM 372 5304. CD Review by Chris Parker)
‘[A] rounded luminescence, like the moon in full phase’ is the New York Times’s description of trumpeter Ralph Alessi’s tone, and on this, his first album as leader for ECM, he exploits its flawless precision to explore and embellish ten of his highly individual themes, which range from delicate, rubato musings to more robust (but none the less lyrical) pieces utilising all the skill and inventiveness of a supremely sympathetic band: pianist Jason Moran, bassist Drew Gress, drummer Nasheet Waits.
Alessi himself describes the quartet as ‘fearless … We’re happy to jump into the void and play’, and about Moran (whose eminent suitability as a foil to the most thoughtful horn soloists will already be familiar to anyone who’s heard a recent Charles Lloyd album) he comments: ‘he jumps around, doubling melodies, playing countermelodies, orchestrating in an improvised way’.
Gress, Alessi says, ‘can open things up and take it to a different place. His ears are amazing’; Waits ‘can hear things before they happen and frame the music’ – these comments are worth quoting at such length because they distil the essence of Alessi’s craft: an ability to mould music, courtesy of the hair-trigger sensitivity of his band, into a complex, often evanescent but always natural sound, spearheaded by his own searing purity and faultless articulation.
Baida is not always the most immediately accessible album – Alessi frequently chooses the road less travelled – but it richly rewards listeners who are willing to approach it with the scrupulous attentiveness to nuance and detail that clearly characterised its production.