Trumpeter Ralph Alessi's third ECM album, Imaginary Friends, presents him fronting a longtime working quintet in its first recording since 2010. Alessi's bandmates include a kindred spirit in saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, a studio and stage partner of the trumpeter's since they were students together at the California Institute of the Arts in the late '80s. They are joined by pianist Andy Milne and drummer Mark Ferber, both making their ECM debuts, plus bassist Drew Gress, who played on Baida and Quiver. The nine Alessi compositions on Imaginary Friends include an irresistable highlight in "Iram Issela," with its rich seam of bittersweet melody and exceptional soloing by Coltane setting the scene for an album of quicksilver beauty.
ArkivJazz: Congratulations on the new disc. It’s quite wonderful.
Ralph Alessi: Oh, thank you so much.
AJ: So, this is your third disc with ECM. How did this come together?
RA: It’s an old working band of mine that had made three records several years back for different labels. I put the project on the backburner for a few years and concentrated on my quartet, then decided to revisit and record this band.
AJ: Well, it’s a tremendous recording. The ensemble sounds extremely tight on the record.
RA: It was time for me to make another record for ECM, and I was excited about getting that band back together. We toured for a couple of weeks in Europe before we recorded, and although some of the tunes came into fruition right there at the sessions, there were others that we were workshopping on the road. We were exploring a couple of tunes like “Oxide” and Imaginary Friends”, which were new songs, and it took a little while to get the right feeling of how to shape them. Then, on the day of recording we reached a point where it was kind of the pinnacle of that process.
AJ: Going through the tunes, there are just some great variations. The opening tune named for your daughter backwards (“Iram Issela”), is a really well-constructed tune with a great build, and a wonderful solo from Ravi (Coltrane). Just going through the album and spending some time with it, there’s a lot of great sounds and some excellent writing. So….the pianist, was that Andy?
RA: Yes, Andy Milne....I’ve worked with him for many years.
AJ: …it’s also great to hear Ravi (Coltrane) on this record. He’s such an extraordinary player on his own terms, and it sounds like he is stepping out more than he used to. He’s always had his own sound, but it’s really being burnished now and stands out a little more than before.
RA: Yes, he’s grown into quite a player, and his work keeps deepening.
AJ: Well, it’s really a fantastic recording. Sorry to have missed you at Winter JazzFest, but I look forward to seeing you one day.