Until Zenith, the first release on his own label, Inner Voice Jazz, pianist Marc Copland had never played with trumpeter Ralph Alessi, but they prove an ideal match. Joined by bassist Drew Gress (who has long played with both musicians) and drummer Joey Baron (who can play anything with anybody), this might turn out to be a "classic quartet."
Alessi, 53, has a lean tone and a penchant for minor chords that seems to owe much to Miles Davis' In a Silent Way mode, but he adds to it a classicist's harmonic stretch and an expansive puzzle-master's sense of space. His albums as a composer-leader, most notably Baida and This Against That, tend to explore the tectonic layers of a song in always intriguing, sometimes riveting ways.
Copland, 67, played saxophone early on before switching to piano, which may account for the sharp clarity of his melodic lines (a legacy of his horn-blowing days) and the vast palette of colors in his voicings (a dimension of music that he couldn't tap into with a horn alone). When he and Alessi start playing the melody of Ellington's "Mystery Song" (the album's only cover), I thought for a second that two horns were blowing in unison.
Melodic lines and color palettes aren't the first (or second, or third) features I'd note about Alessi's past albums (or his musical inclinations), but Copland's immersions bring out a glow in the trumpeter's sound. The two musicians complement each other with depths of feeling I wouldn't have expected.
This is a very satisfying album not only musically but also sonically. Engineer Katsuhiko Naitu recorded the session in 24/96 using ProTools at Oktaven AudiO, in Yonkers, using the studio's stockpile of vintage mikes (and some modern clones), including Neumann M49s and KM84s, RCA 44s, and a pair of Schoeps CMT-56s for ambience. Some jiggering was done in the mastering with a Manley Massive Passive EQ and Prism-Maselec MLA2 limiter.
Alessi's trumpet sounds warm but natural and vibrant; Baron's trapset snaps and shimmers; Gress' bass is properly woody and articulate; and Copland's piano has the right mix of percussive and liquid.
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