Ralph Alessi as Sideman: 5 Essential Examples

Supporting Ravi Coltrane, Fred Hersch, Uri Caine and more

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Ralph Alessi
By Noah Becker

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THE URI CAINE ENSEMBLE
Gustav Mahler in Toblach: I Went Out This Morning Over the Countryside (Winter & Winter, 1999)
Pianist Uri Caine has wrung endless provocation from the classical canon, and this live album captures the intensity of his Mahler project, laying bare a shifting balance between source fidelity and unbound exploration. Dig especially Alessi’s move from concert precision to thrust-and-parry on selections from “Songs of the Death of Children.”

RAVI COLTRANE
From the Round Box (RCA Victor, 2000)
“Social Drones,” the opening track on this fine quintet outing, is a Ralph Alessi tune, and it sets the mood to come: inquisitive, haunting, rhythmically fluid. The blend between Alessi’s horn and Coltrane’s tenor and soprano saxophones is impressive throughout the album, as is their interplay with a rhythm section spearheaded by pianist Geri Allen.

FRED HERSCH
The Fred Hersch Trio + 2 (Palmetto, 2004)
Three-fourths of Alessi’s current quartet appears on this album, a springlike postbop foray by pianist Fred Hersch. It’s worth revisiting not only for the sturdiness of the writing but also for Alessi’s hard-nosed jousting with tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby on a swinger like “Miss B.” (Also worth a close listen: the pristine trumpet sound on “A Lark,” dedicated to Kenny Wheeler, an inspiration to Hersch and Alessi alike.)

SCOTT COLLEY
Empire (CAM Jazz, 2010)
A bittersweet heartland odyssey anchored by Scott Colley’s bass playing and marked by the unmistakable textural shading of guitarist Bill Frisell, this soul-satisfying album also features some primo trumpet playing. Alessi delivers an incredibly dynamic performance on a track called “5:30 am,” which also has undulant work by pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Brian Blade.

DREW GRESS
The Sky Inside (Pirouet, 2013)
Bassist Drew Gress has made three great albums now, consecutively, with the all-stars assembled here: Alessi, alto saxophonist Tim Berne, pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Tom Rainey. This one features a typical gauntlet of off-kilter rhythms and leaping intervals, which Alessi negotiates with his usual coolheaded flair, often in an appealingly prickly tandem with Berne.

Originally published in October 2013

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