Even if Alessi weren’t the director of the School for Improvisatory Music, it would be nice to know which came first, the titles or the music, where these 11 intriguing compositions of his are concerned. Nothing in “Chuck Barris,” for instance, suggests The Gong Show or “Palisades Park.” So is it Barris’ unsubstantiated claim that he was a CIA assassin we’re supposed to associate with Alessi’s fluttery flights of Miles Davis fancy? If so, “Sanity” is a tonic. And the agile “Throwing Like a Girl” pure red herring.
Previously only available as one 76th of The Complete Collection, this Sin City show finds the then-37-year-old “Latin from Manhattan” at the top of his game, delivering 23 songs, give or take a reprise, to high rollers blissfully oblivious to the four mop-topped Brits who’d begun sucking the air out of the pop-music room just a few months earlier. So why does the cover list 24 cuts? Because one is six minutes of Milton Berle, Danny Thomas, and Mickey Rooney providing ace comic relief.
Recorded in 2008, this ambitious project for clarinet (Goldberg), sax (Joshua Redman), trumpet (Ron Miles), and rhythm sections (Devin Hoffs, Scott Amendola, and Ches Smith) still sounds ahead of its time. The winds and woodwinds writhe and intertwine with more method than madness, but enough of the latter comes through to make the occasional percussion outburst seem of a piece—and to justify the album title’s Dylan allusion, although the only Dylan cover is an ecstatic rendition of a song Dylan himself covered at the outset of Saved.
“[H]e allows the hidden blues in the tune to come out and haunt him as he explores each nuance with minimal accompaniment,” wrote Allmusic.com’s Thom Jurek of a performance from the first album on which Redman received prominent billing. But the saxophonist being described was Joshua’s father Dewey. Now, 21 years later, Jurek’s words could apply to every song on this gorgeous recording except that an orchestra is hardly “minimal accompaniment.” “Let It Be” feels like a ringer, Bach’s “Adagio” less so, the rest not at all.
Beginning with The Jazz Singer, Hollywood’s first “talkie,” film and jazz have had a long and symbiotic relationship. And to make sure no one forgets, Moon Cycle Records has reissued Movie Songs Project, the 2009 album of film themes performed by the Royce Campbell Trio and Phil Woods. With Campbell a Henry Mancini alumnus and Woods an accomplished sax man, the musicianship is as high as it is smooth, the melodies as indelible as Johnny Mandel’s “The Shadow of Your Smile,” Nino Rota’s “Theme from Amarcord,” and Mancini’s “Baby Elephant Walk.”
A more innovative approach to the intersection of celluloid and syncopation is the John Abercrombie Quartet’s 39 Steps (ECM). The song titles notwithstanding (four paying homage to Hitchcock, one to the actor Sydney Greenstreet), the cinematic connections serve as starting points for an elegantly moody exploration rather than as ends in themselves. There are, in other words, no film themes revisited—unless by “themes” one means suggestively inchoate meanings.