The New York City Jazz Record by David R. Adler

Ralph Alessi And This Against That – Wiry Strong (CF 220)
There’s a good deal of continuity between Wiry Strong, the latest release from trumpeter Ralph Alessi’s This Against That and previous efforts such as Look, a 2007 outing with the same personnel. A key difference, however: tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, a “special guest” on four tracks from Look, is now billed as a full-fledged quintet member. Between the two front linehorns, Andy Milne’s spacious piano and the rugged, textural rhythm of bassist Drew Gress and drummer Mark Ferber, Alessi gives himself an enticing range of options. He goes the route of tight orchestration, spiky melodies, darkly suggestive harmony and flowing improvised dialogue, hard-edged but not without a certain tenderness on numbers such as “Halves and Wholes” and “Mira”. Of the 15 tracks, all are Alessi’s originals save forfour collectively-composed pieces: “Pudgy”, “Racy Banter”, “Celebrity Golf Classic” and the opening “Clown Painting”. Curiously, these brief abstract sketches, marked by odd timbres and repeating rhythmic patterns, are recorded a bit louder than the main body of the album, giving the disc a slightly uneven aural effect (perhaps the intention of co-producers Alessi and Tim Berne). Elsewhere, subtle overdubbed trumpet backgrounds on “Station Wagon Trip”, “Halves and Wholes” and the closing title track enhance the chamber-jazz aspects of Alessi’s writing. The playing is sonorous and vibrant, although at 72 minutes the program drags in spots. Drummers are key to Alessi’s springy, funk-inflected rhythmic language, as Nasheet Waits proved on the trumpeter’s laser-focused 2010 quartet outing Cognitive Dissonance. On Wiry Strong it is Ferber who lends momentum and wide-ranging percussive colors: martial snare patterns on “Bizarro-World Moment”; rolling toms on “20% of the 80%”; skittering motion on“A Dollar in Your Shoe” and rubato musings leading toa bright, surging tempo on “Medieval Genius”. But repeat listens drive home how every bandmember -not least of all Alessi with his soaring and allusive horn – brings this complex contrapuntal world into relief.

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