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Trumpeter Ralph Alessi is one of those major jazz figures who’s never quite hit the button of stardom, yet remains one of the most respected musicians in his field. His thirteenth LP as a leader and fourth for ECM, It’s Always Now debuts a new, international set of backing musicians to help Alessi with his distinctive vision. Versatile American drummer Gerry Hemingway and Swiss bassist Bänz Oester provide a variety of rhythms, locking onto each other like a barnacle to a hull one minute and jogging parallel alongside each other the next. Pianist Florian Weber serves as the harmonic anchor, not only laying down textural comping and counterpoint riffs, but also co-composing a few tunes. Backed by these fresh but experienced faces, Alessi really puts his heart into both his songs and his performances, be it the strutting avant bop of “Hanging By a Thread,” the atmospheric balladry of “The Shadow Side,” the swinging free jazz of “Portion Control,” the shapeshifting post bop of “His Hopes, His Fears, His Tears,” or the classical minimalism of the title track. The trumpeter particularly soars over the melodic grooves of “Everything Mirrors Everything” and especially “Residue,” a modest title for such a magnificent song. His best album yet? Hard to say, but there’s little doubt It’s Always Now won’t be considered a landmark in the Alessi catalog.