Ralph Alessi ‘Imaginary Friends’ CD (ECM) 3/5

Trumpeter Ralph Alessi’s third release for the ECM label features him fronting his long-time working quintet, with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, pianist Andy Milne, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Mark Ferber joining Alessi for a set of 9 tunes, all composed by the band-leader.

Over the past decade and a half, Alessi’s quintet has often gone by the moniker This Against That, with this version of the line-up making 2 previous albums together and touring extensively. The trumpeter has a particularly strong relationship with Ravi Coltrane, since becoming friends as students. The maturity of this pairing can clearly be heard throughout this recording, their intuitive partnering bearing fruit on many of the tunes, none more so than on the title track with the duo’s interwoven chemistry a joy to behold.

The combination of Alessi and Coltrane working together in such a skillful, dynamic and thoughtful way is in itself the highlight of the album. Witnessing the pair combining their talents on the sumptuous opener “Iram Issela”, the more upbeat “Melee”, and the delightful “Oxide”, brings an obvious warmth and kinship to the music being made. “It has been a wonderful thing witnessing Ravi mature as a musician,” Alessi says. “He has such a beautiful sound, with a distinctive voice on the instrument – not an easy thing on the tenor sax, in particular. He has acquired a new level of depth in recent years and sounds great on this new album.” And I would certainly echo those thoughts.

The trio of Andy Milne, Drew Gress and Mark Ferber work intelligently together, creating a solid foundation for the two horn players, with a cool sophistication emanating from the quintet as a unit. There seems to be a focus on exploration and discovery on many of the tunes, with varying results, with some moments hitting the sweet spot, and others not quite so, but overall this is a consummate and accomplished album.

Mike Gates

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Ralph Alessi ‘Quiver’ (ECM) 3/5
Ralph Alessi ‘Baida’ (ECM) 4/5