[JPL] In Spartan Space, Jazz in a Communal Mode

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Fri Mar 9 17:38:58 EST 2007

March 8, 2007
Music Review | Ralph Alessi’s This Against That
In Spartan Space, Jazz in a Communal Mode 
Ralph Alessi has a prodigious trumpet technique, and a
pedigree worthy of it: His father was a celebrated
classical trumpeter, and his brother is the principal
trombonist with the Metropolitan Opera. Mr. Alessi was
probably headed for an orchestral career himself until
a hard turn toward improvisation at the California
Institute of the Arts. It was the right decision,
given that what Mr. Alessi prizes in music is not the
impeccable but the ineffable: the thrill of seeking
but not knowing. 

That motive has guided Mr. Alessi’s left-of-center
jazz career. In 2001 it also led him to establish the
Center for Improvisational Music, a nonprofit
institution now based in Park Slope, Brooklyn. There,
in a spartan but acoustically accommodating space, Mr.
Alessi and a roster of other artists hold performances
and educational workshops, including an intensive
two-week summer program. The driving idea is that
advanced jazz training thrives best by a communal
model, unencumbered by bureaucracy, hierarchy or

Mr. Alessi presented his own working band, This
Against That, at the center on Tuesday night, drawing
a full house amply stocked with young musicians. In a
single set that ran a little over an hour, the group
played original music from an impressive new album
called “Look” (Between the Lines). In its stronger
moments the set was noticeably looser and more
immediate than the recording, and entirely free of

One of the best things about it was the musical
kinship between Mr. Alessi and the tenor saxophonist
Ravi Coltrane. They provided some enlightening
contrasts in their solos — Mr. Coltrane sounding more
slippery, Mr. Alessi more exacting — and they struck
an effortless push-pull as a front-line pair. On the
album’s title track they played intertwining strands
of melody, making the most of some tight dissonance.
Later, in a song called “Platform Velvet,” they held a
single long tone, dissolving into unison.

A number of Mr. Alessi’s new compositions are moody
and incantatory, with chiming harmonies. So the
dynamic sensitivity of his rhythm section is crucial.
The one currently enlisted, with Andy Milne on piano,
Ben Street on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums,
handily proved its subtle power. Mr. Milne also
contributed some fine solos, notably on “Lap Nap,” a
piece with a cycle of bouncing intervals and a wafting
quintuple meter. 

At times Mr. Alessi’s trumpet projected a cold, clear
tone that bordered on the clinical. He seemed to catch
himself and consciously push toward greater tension.
Of course he sounded best when he didn’t have to try,
as on a spiraling étude called “Near Cry” and a
fractured acoustic-funk workout titled “At the Seams.”

On “Sir,” a near-dirge with a vaporous tempo, Mr.
Coltrane played the first solo, employing artful
silences and multiphonic split tones. Then Mr. Alessi
took over, moving from a prayerful whinny to a series
of triplet flurries, some piercing whole notes and
finally a lacework of chromatic lines. It was an
exhibition, but not a shallow one. When the song faded
into silence, there were several long seconds before a
burst of applause. 

Ralph Alessi’s This Against That performs tomorrow in
Reno, Nev., Friday through Sunday in California and
next week in Colorado and New Mexico. Schedule:


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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