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Ralph Alessi: Quiver

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Like its 2013 predecessor, Baida, trumpeter-composer Ralph Alessi’s second ECM release as a leader is a quartet album. The pianist has changed (Gary Versace replacing Jason Moran), but the other players-bassist Drew Gress and drummer Nasheet Waits-remain the same. So does the mood: questing, meditative, bittersweet. With his trumpet playing, which frequently brings to mind the burnished tone and impeccable taste of Kenny Wheeler, Alessi pulls off a tough trick, managing to fully inhabit the unabashed beauty of his compositions while at the same time observing them from a critical distance. His bandmates are clearly up for taking the same approach.

Time tends to be elastic here, and the duty of keeping it can pass from one player to another almost imperceptibly. Waits’ impressionistic drumming is a special treat throughout. Behind Versace’s delicate solo on “I to I,” he initiates a repeating series of brush strokes on his snare that sound as if someone has opened up a portal to the fourth dimension (or at least turned on a delay pedal). Toward the end of “Window Goodbyes,” his cymbal splashes occupy a completely different temporal plane from the light tapping of his bass drum, yet the two components somehow retain an integral partnership.

Having such a free spirit behind the kit in turn liberates the rest of the group to follow ideas wherever they lead. To say that these musicians accompany each other doesn’t quite capture it; they shadow each other, waiting for openings. In a common gambit, heard perhaps to best effect in the solo section of “Scratch,” Alessi plays a spiraling phrase, Versace echoes part of it, Waits adds a related aside and Gress provides the punctuation. It’s the power of listening, on vibrant display.

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