Ralph Alessi Quartet: It’s Always Now

In his fourth ECM album the trumpeter creates a mournful mood using slow tempos, minor keys and effectively subterranean presentation

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Ralph Alessi, born San Francisco in 1963, is the son of classical trumpeter Joe Alessi and opera singer Maria Leone. He studied with Charlie Haden at CalArts, moved to New York, and now lives in Switzerland.

His fourth appearance as leader for ECM follows Imaginary Friends (2019). It’s Always Now features a new quartet with pianist Florian Weber, bassist Bänz Oester and drummer Gerry Hemingway – the album is also Florian Weber’s fourth for ECM, and it’s one of Manfred Eicher’s own productions.

It features Alessi’s original compositions, which are mournfully expressive, plus three in collaboration with Florian Weber. At first, the effect seems rather monochrome and lugubrious. But listeners should be persist, as further listening reveals the album’s delights and felicities. Despite echoes of Tomasz Stańko or Enrico Rava, Alessi is an intensely individual stylist. 

The album opens with the almost subterranean trumpet-piano duet Hypnagogic, followed by Old Baby, a very slow, lyrical and affecting duet involving the same pair. Migratory Party ups the tempo a little – mid-tempo is as fast as the first half of the album gets – in an eerie and haunting composition that reminds me of the work of the late lamented Kenny Wheeler. Residue is an attractive minor-key theme with a Latinish groove; The Shadow Side is a very slow and gorgeously affecting ballad.

One of ECM’s slower ones, but a good one.

Discography
Hypnagogic; Old Baby; Migratory Party; Residue; The Shadow Side; It’s Always Now; Diagonal Lady; His Hopes, His Fears, His Tears; Everything Mirrors Everything; Portion Control; Ire; Hanging By A Thread; Tumbleweed (59.19)
Ralph Alessi (t); Florian Weber (p); Bänz Oester (b); Gerry Hemingway (d). Udine, June 2021.
ECM Records 4883263