Terkel Nørgaard – With Ralph Alessi
(We Jazz. CD Review by Dick Hovenga(*))
Danish drummer Terkel Nørgaard has been a very popular figure in Scandinavian jazz for some years now, and has started to become better known outside Scandinavia too. His beautiful playing, the consistent excellence of the musicians who surround him, and his ability to write inspiring compositions are the basis for this.
For his new album he asked trumpeter Ralph Alessi to join his trio, which, naturally enough, was an offer the American musician didn’t want to turn down. And Nørgaard was so pleased that it had happened, he honoured Alessi’s contribution with the title of the album. A nice gesture, but one which doesn’t do full justice to the contributions of Søren Gemmer (piano) and Jesper Thorn (bass), both from the thriving Copenhagen jazz scene. Of course Alessi’s trumpet does dominate proceedings, but without the presence of Nørgaard’s great trio, his playing would have been of far less consequence.
The title With Ralph Alessi is clearly aimed at giving Nørgaard more of an international profile, something that Alessi has had for a long time. And this album does everything to maximise the chances of making that happen. Based on 21 sketches, Nørgaard has constructed an album in seven compositions with real heft. The recordings were made as long ago as June 2016 but, for all sorts of reasons, they are only now being released by the fine We Jazz Records label from Helsinki.
And the result is a great album. The compositions are beautifully diverse and always surprisingly full of unexpected turns. They are played in a fine open atmosphere in which all four musicians make the most of the space they are given. Of course Alessi, who built up his reputation in the bands of Steve Coleman and Uri Caine from the end of the last century onwards, and then, via Cam Jazz and the last few years at ECM, and has also made an impression with some superb records in his own name, delivers some emphatic playing.
He is a delightful trumpet player to listen to, and it must be said that with Nørgaard, Gemmer and Thorn he has taken things to the highest level. There is no sense of him just following or in any sense of being constrained by the lines of the compositions. He just picks them up and transforms then in something richer in sound and atmosphere. And where he picks up, the trio follows and vice versa. The listening, the interaction, the dovetailing are flawless.
It is also definitely worth mentioning that Nørgaard has a superb trio with Gemmer and Thorn which deserves to be much better known worldwide. Nørgaard is at the helm, and what a top-notch drummer he is. And Gemmer and Thorn are seriously impressive as well. Their playing is fluent, technically beautiful but above all full of emotion and class.
The facts that Alessi was an inspiration to the trio during the recordings and vice versa seems to pour out of every groove. What Scandinavian jazz ensembles are so good at pop is to traverse so naturally back and forth from the powerful to the minimal. That particular dynamic works brilliantly, the ease with which they cover those transitions captures the ear every time, and make With Ralph Alessi into an exceptionally fine album that brings joy every time one listens to it.
Categories: CD review