Ralph Alessi in a Quartet at the Jazz Standard


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Ralph Alessi has never had a problem with precision or grappled publicly with the mechanics of his art. His trumpet tone conveys a rounded luminescence, like the moon in full phase, and his technique is an astonishment of fluency. The challenge for him, at least as a bandleader, revolves around emotional expressiveness, along with the issue of purpose. At times it can seem as if Mr. Alessi favors open-endedness because he doesn't trust his own conclusions or his means of making them felt by an audience.

All of which helps frame the nature of his achievement at the Jazz Standard on Wednesday. Mr. Alessi was booked there for a single night, with a rhythm section composed of the pianist Jason Moran, the bassist Drew Gress and the drummer Nasheet Waits. Their first set was generously apportioned but over too soon. Mr. Alessi, working with these partners, gave it the urgent force and clarity of a manifesto.

They drew mainly from “Cognitive Dissonance," an album released last month (on the Italian label Cam Jazz) but recorded more than five years ago. It's a strong effort, one of Mr. Alessi's best, but it was handily outshone by this performance. The cooperative history among the players—all of whom also appeared on Mr. Alessi's album “This Against That" (RKM), in 2002—threw the music into high contrast and sharper relief.

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