“Alessi’s stock-in-trade is to make the angularities and asymmetries of complex tunes sound natural, to assert their logic, to lead. There is always the sense of a direction of travel. His trumpet sound is full, focused, a constant pleasure to hear.” – LondonJazz
Trumpeter Ralph Alessi’s ECM leader debut – 2013’s Baida – was the album where “everything came together for him,” according to a JazzTimes profile. “Without abandoning his yen for oppositional energies, it’s a beautifully coherent statement, not just his most accomplished album but a contender for one of the year’s best.” Baida indeed went on to become the most lauded release of Alessi’s career, with The New York Times praising the music for its balance of “elegant precision and power.” With Quiver, Alessi combines with pianist Gary Versace and the trumpeter’s longtime rhythm section of choice – bassist Drew Gress and drummer Nasheet Waits – to create a follow-up of quicksilver melodicism and subtly energized rhythm; there is a lyricism to Alessi’s playing on Quiver that channels such forebears as Miles Davis and Kenny Wheeler, the mood often reflective. As DownBeat says: “Alessi works between the notes, his thoughtful, conversational solos as meditative as a calligrapher’s art, each line free-flowing and declarative but with immaculate shape and beauty.”
Alessi has long been renowned as a musician’s musician, a first-call New York trumpeter who can play virtually anything on sight and has excelled as an improviser in groups led by Steve Coleman, Uri Caine, Ravi Coltrane, Fred Hersch and Don Byron, as well as leading his own bands on stage and on record. But Alessi has stood especially tall as a leader with Baida and, now, Quiver, which was recorded in Oslo and mixed in New York with producer Manfred Eicher. The quartet for Quiver sees Versace step to the piano stool in place of the estimable Jason Moran, who graced Baida. Versace immediately makes his poetic presence felt, the arpeggiated chords in his solo introduction to “Here Tomorrow” being the first notes of the album.
“Gary carries on a continuity of approach from Jason, similar in spirit but definitely his own, distinctive man,” Alessi says. “This is wide-open music, with a lot of latitude for interpretation, especially for the piano. The pianist can play a melodic role, make harmonic suggestions, lay out – all of which Gary does in the most creative way. What I like most about him is that he is such a focused improviser, with his improvising very much spontaneous composing.”
The New York Times has characterized the Gress/Waits rhythm duo as having an “earthy elasticity.” Alessi has been playing with Gress since they teamed in the late 1990s for one of pianist Uri Caine’s groups. “I’ve played electric bass myself for a long while, and I like to write riffs and bass lines,” the trumpeter explains. “Drew can really groove on these to create a subtle tension. He has no problem serving the music by playing those parts, although he always knows when he can open things up and take it to a different place. His ears are amazing, and he’s a great composer himself, so he brings that sensibility to the music.”
Alessi and Waits first played together more than a decade ago as members of pianist Fred Hersch’s quintet. One of New York’s most inventive drummers, Waits once again gives a deeply musical performance on Quiver, providing the sound of surprise as well as quiet groove. “Nasheet has this quality that I love in a musician, particularly drummers – he has this third eye, this intuitive way of playing the music,” Alessi says. “He always creates a magical energy that makes the music so exciting. Some drummers just have ‘it’ – and Nasheet really does.” The album’s closing track, “Do Over,” is a brief tune that was played through new on the session just so Waits could solo over it, capping the album with a final hit. “He shows his naturally dynamic side on that,” Alessi says. “I just wish we would’ve kept going so we could hear him playing like that over and over.”
As with the title track of Baida, Alessi references his young daughter on Quiver, with the title of “Window Goodbyes” hinting at the 5-year-old’s habit of waving farewell to her father, bound for the road. “When I leave, she likes to go to the window and keep saying goodbye,” he says. “As a dad, I just love that, but there’s a melancholy there, too.” For all its balletic rhythmic subtleties, the album has an overall air of wistfulness, as the trumpeter recalls the session. “For whatever reason, it was something of a pensive day in the studio. The music can’t help but have something of that feeling in it, I guess. As a musician, my goal is to express myself as honestly as possible, to feel and react in the moment. That’s how jazz is supposed to be.”