American trumpeter Ralph Alessi who has a foot in both classical and jazz music camps, his father being a classically trained trumpeter and mother being an opera singer, has been involved in some ambitious recent projects, notably engaged in a duet recording with pianist Fred Hersch. For his latest project, he has enlisted the support of a crack rhythm section comprising pianist Jason Moran, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Nasheet Waits. The all-original set of compositions reveals a profound awareness of and sensitivity towards the jazz tradition. If the overall impression is of a nod towards mid-late 1950s Miles Davis, then it is the empathetic rapport with pianist Moran that is most striking and impressive. This is illustrated on pieces such as the waltz-like ‘Throwing like a girl’ with muted harmon and piano in unison and on the title track and its reprise which bookend the set. For hearing the rhythm section in full flow, the busy and engaging ‘In flight entertainment’ with a simple piano riff serving as the pretext for an extended solo from Moran later on will enthral. There will be those who might question whether Alessi’s tone on a number such as ‘Maria Lydia’ is simply too clinical, but the riposte can be found in the mournful ballad ‘Sanity’ where Alessi’s devotion to the cause is beyond reproach.
Brazilian pianist-singer Eliane Elias returns with an album that, although devoted to trumpeter Chet Baker, incorporates some of her own Brazilian roots and that makes the set all the more listenable and worthwhile. The great American songbook serves as the backdrop to this album and with a top line-up of Marc Johnson on bass, Victor Lewis on drums and guests including guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves and ex-husband trumpeter Randy Brecker, you know you are in for a treat. Elias and co breeze through a bossa-flavoured ‘There will never be another you’ with Brecker in attendance while ‘Let’s get lost’ is performed as a samba-jazz vehicle. While the faithful rendition of ‘You don’t know what love is’ is both intimate and moody, ‘Everything depends on you’ is performed as a pared down duet between piano and guitar and is a classy affair. If Elias’s vocal range in English is somewhat limited in comparison to others. she more than makes up with her piano playing which is never less than first class and she excels on extended solos such as on ‘I’ve never been in love before’. This writer would like to hear more of this side of the pianist’s repertoire. The title track features blues inflections on piano that recall Gene Harris in his prime. As ever with Eliane Elias releases, the visual aspect of the front and inner covers aims to attract attention and does not disappoint! Tim Stenhouse
The relationship between music and cinema has become a good deal closer in recent years with groups such as Mogwai treading a pioneering path in their espousal of independent and art house productions. Finnish group Odderrang are similarly driven and this third album follows on from ‘Cathedral’ (2011) and ‘Music Illustrated’ (2007). For this latest project the music was originally composed for four independent films, tow of which have been fully expanded for the current album. It is a well balanced set with jazz influences as well as rock, but always melodic and in parts quietly contemplative. That would certainly be one way to describe ‘Self-portrait’ which features a lovely cello solo, but three minutes in suddenly takes off in another direction altogether. Of the three lengthier pieces, ‘Missing tapes from a highway set’ is a lovely gentle acoustic number while ‘Cultivate and contemplate’ has something of an early music feel with the use of cello and sounds all the better for it. Leader Olavi Louhivuori is a multi-instrumentalist with a clear vision and he is to be commended for creating such original and evocative sounds. Tim Stenhouse