Wiry Strong (Clean Feed; 2011)
Ravi Coltrane (sax)
Drew Gress (bass)
Mark Ferber (drums)
Andy Milne (piano)
Ralph Alessi's music always has a well structured, complex and cinematic feel to it. He was raised and trained as a classical trumpeter, and it shows throughout all of his releases with a supreme mastery of his instrument. The combination of that classical technique and his love of modern jazz structures makes for exciting and diverse albums every time out.
His work with fellow trailblazing musicians such as Jason Moran, Don Byron, Uri Caine, Steve Coleman among others has put him in an almost indescribable category. Most jazz fans would describe his music as avant garde but his latest, Wiry Strong (Clean Feed Records) feels like his most accomplished and accessible album to date.
Wiry Strong magnificently weaves together diverse ideas, turning them into romantic adventures and in some cases fun excursions. "Station Wagon Trip" has a big orchestrated tone but it is also enveloped a sense of a group moving forward in sound. There are spiraling rhythms that are enhanced by Andy Milne on piano and Ravi Coltrane. Alessi's performance carries the listener on what feels like a surreal journey but this all works as an enjoyable experience that can easily be grasped by even the newest fan to Alessi's music.
"Halves And Wholes" is probably the most beautiful piece on the record. It definitely highlights Alessi's contemporary/straight ahead abilities both in composition and performance. This is a ballad which the band is integral but Alessi carries the tune with a soft touch that is match wonderfully by Milne.
"A Dollar In Your Shoe" and "20% Of The 80%" are both fun pieces combining multi-layered structures with some crisp performances by Gress and Ferber (in the case of "Dollar"). Alessi's muted trumpet of "20% Of The 80%" adds a level of mystery to the piece along with rolling, repeating patterns from Ferber that keep the avant garde and forward thinking spirit of this group alive. "Wiry Strong" closes out the session in a searching yet forward thinking mode. Alessi and Coltrane lead the group upward in both timing and adventure.
With Wiry Strong, Ralph Alessi has created an album of incredibly rich concepts and captivating melodies that will be rewarding for fans new and old. Ralph Alessi like his many collaborators is among the rare group of musicians who are continuing to push jazz forward and beyond its traditional definitions. Highly Recommended.