Ralph Alessi trumpet
Ravi Coltrane tenor saxophone, sopranino
Andy Milne piano
Drew Gress double bass
Mark Ferber drums
Recorded May 2018, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineer: Nicolas Baillard
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: February 1, 2019
Imaginary Friends marks an ECM threepeat for trumpeter Ralph Alessi. His connectivity with Ravi Coltrane (mostly on tenor saxophone), pianist Andy Milne, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Mark Ferber glows throughout nine originals, of which “Iram Issela” is the heartfelt introduction. Dedicated to Alessi’s daughter (the title is her name spelled backward), it meshes trumpet and piano without a hint of coercion. Coltrane lays low, letting the waves carry him where they will. Alessi’s friendship with him, going back to their student days at the California Institute of the Arts, resonates, as well as in the title track and “Oxide,” one of Alessi’s most exquisite compositions.
Their horns seem to have minds of their own. As free to roam as they are to harmonize, either can take the helm at any given moment, leading to exciting listening. Reflective turns like “Pittance” are all about the trumpet’s emotive powers while “Improper Authorities” allows Coltrane enough room to pave a highway over the rhythm section’s solid roadbed. “Melee” is another compositional masterstroke, which recalls the jigsaw approach of labelmate Tim Berne yet takes on fresh distinction by dint of a calligraphic sopranino. All of this and more funnel into “Good Boy,” a tender quietus.
Most impressive is the relentless spirit of invention. With an average track length of about seven minutes, each tune is a feast for the ears. Indeed, there’s something downright edible about this session, scrumptious from first bite to last and in that proverbial sense dishes out one of the most savory records of the year so far.
(This review originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)