Quiver (ECM)

Ralph Alessi

Released February 19, 2016

DownBeat Four-and-a-Half-Star Review






Trumpeter Ralph Alessi’s ECM leader debut – 2013’s Baida – was the album where “everything came together for him,” according to a JazzTimes profile. “Without abandoning his yen for oppositional energies, it’s a beautifully coherent statement, not just his most accomplished album but a contender for one of the year’s best.” Baida indeed went on to become the most lauded release of Alessi’s career, with The New York Times praising the music for its balance of “elegant precision and power.” With Quiver, Alessi combines with pianist Gary Versace and the trumpeter’s longtime rhythm section of choice – bassist Drew Gress and drummer Nasheet Waits – to create a follow-up of quicksilver melodicism and subtly energized rhythm; there is a lyricism to Alessi’s playing on Quiver that channels such forebears as Miles Davis and Kenny Wheeler, the mood often reflective. As DownBeat says: “Alessi works between the notes, his thoughtful, conversational solos as meditative as a calligrapher’s art, each line free-flowing and declarative but with immaculate shape and beauty.”

Alessi has long been renowned as a musician’s musician, a first-call New York trumpeter who can play virtually anything on sight and has excelled as an improviser in groups led by Steve Coleman, Uri Caine, Ravi Coltrane, Fred Hersch and Don Byron, as well as leading his own bands on stage and on record. But Alessi has stood especially tall as a leader with Baida and, now, Quiver, which was recorded in Oslo and mixed in New York with producer Manfred Eicher. The quartet for Quiver sees Versace step to the piano stool in place of the estimable Jason Moran, who graced Baida. Versace immediately makes his poetic presence felt, the arpeggiated chords in his solo introduction to “Here Tomorrow” being the first notes of the album.

“Gary carries on a continuity of approach from Jason, similar in spirit but definitely his own, distinctive man,” Alessi says. “This is wide-open music, with a lot of latitude for interpretation, especially for the piano. The pianist can play a melodic role, make harmonic suggestions, lay out – all of which Gary does in the most creative way. What I like most about him is that he is such a focused improviser, with his improvising very much spontaneous composing.”

The New York Times has characterized the Gress/Waits rhythm duo as having an “earthy elasticity.” Alessi has been playing with Gress since they teamed in the late 1990s for one of pianist Uri Caine’s groups. “I’ve played electric bass myself for a long while, and I like to write riffs and bass lines,” the trumpeter explains. “Drew can really groove on these to create a subtle tension. He has no problem serving the music by playing those parts, although he always knows when he can open things up and take it to a different place. His ears are amazing, and he’s a great composer himself, so he brings that sensibility to the music.”

Alessi and Waits first played together more than a decade ago as members of pianist Fred Hersch’s quintet. One of New York’s most inventive drummers, Waits once again gives a deeply musical performance on Quiver, providing the sound of surprise as well as quiet groove. “Nasheet has this quality that I love in a musician, particularly drummers – he has this third eye, this intuitive way of playing the music,” Alessi says. “He always creates a magical energy that makes the music so exciting. Some drummers just have ‘it’ – and Nasheet really does.” The album’s closing track, “Do Over,” is a brief tune that was played through new on the session just so Waits could solo over it, capping the album with a final hit. “He shows his naturally dynamic side on that,” Alessi says. “I just wish we would’ve kept going so we could hear him playing like that over and over.”

As with the title track of Baida, Alessi references his young daughter on Quiver, with the title of “Window Goodbyes” hinting at the 5-year-old’s habit of waving farewell to her father, bound for the road. “When I leave, she likes to go to the window and keep saying goodbye,” he says. “As a dad, I just love that, but there’s a melancholy there, too.” For all its balletic rhythmic subtleties, the album has an overall air of wistfulness, as the trumpeter recalls the session. “For whatever reason, it was something of a pensive day in the studio. The music can’t help but have something of that feeling in it, I guess. As a musician, my goal is to express myself as honestly as possible, to feel and react in the moment. That’s how jazz is supposed to be.”

Track Listing:

1. Here Tomorrow (Ralph Alessi) 02:57

2. Window Goodbyes (Ralph Alessi) 05:18

3. Smooth Descent (Ralph Alessi) 06:56

4. Heist (Ralph Alessi) 06:46

5. Gone Today, Here Tomorrow (Ralph Alessi) 09:49

6. I to I (Ralph Alessi) 06:14

7. Scratch (Ralph Alessi) 05:17

8. Shush (Ralph Alessi) 07:05

9. Quiver (Ralph Alessi) 04:14

10. Do Over (Ralph Alessi) 01:47


Ralph Alessi: trumpet

Gary Versace: piano

Drew Gress: double bass

Nasheet Waits: drums

Recorded September 2014, at Rainbow Studio, Oslo

Design: Sascha Kleis

Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug

Mixed by Manfred Eicher and Ralph Alessi

Mixed by James A. Farber

Cover Photo: Caterina di Perri

Producer: Manfred Eicher


A CD titled Quiver on ECM sounds like it might be extra precious, but Ralph Alessi’s sophomore outing for the label is as audacious as its outstanding predecessor. In this case, the word evokes more a container for arrows— think straight and true—than an involuntary shudder. The trumpeter seems to have found an ideal venue, his penchant for the oblique statement and ventilated ensemble nicely couched in a pristine recording and a magical ensemble.

Alessi’s compositions have an allusive vibe, less outright statements than skeletons on which the band drapes its sounds. A line emerges, is articulated, added onto, then disappears. The rhythmic concept has the same evanescence. Bassist Drew Gress and drummer Nasheet Waits play beautifully together, rather delicately, falling together rather than locking in, so that the instruments are on an even field, encouraging real improvisational interplay. Pianist Gary Versace, who joined the group in place of ultra-busy Jason Moran, is superb here, as elsewhere. He sneaks a little four-note ostinato into the end of “Shush,” musically putting his finger to his lips, while he signals the unexpected harmonic shifts on “Smooth Descent,” one of the disc’s highest points. The quality of bold indirectness that makes Quiver so exceptional is also integral to Alessi’s playing. He can squeeze a run like a lemon, juicing a melody into a little pool of liquid, or he may croon in a vulnerable voice, as on “Heist,” growing animated but never brash, always reaching for refreshing notes.

John Corbett (DownBeat)