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In the current climate we are doing our best to keep everyone up to date. All gigs, as we all know, are off.

However, good old YouTube has plenty to offer both old and new to help us survive whilst housebound. Plus now is a good time to stock up on your CDs.

Also, keep an eye out for live streaming sessions.

Alternatively, you could do as they do in Italy and sing from your balcony.

Today

As we all know there are no live gigs taking place in the immediate future. However, any links to jazz streaming that are deemed suitable - i.e. with a professional approach - will be considered for posting.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

CD Review: Ralph Alessi – Imaginary Friends

Ralph Alessi (trumpet); Ravi Coltrane (tenor saxophone, sopranino); Andy Milne (piano); Drew Gress (double bass); Mark Ferber (drums).
(Review by Hugh C).

Imaginary Friends is this particular quintet’s first release since 2010.  The band had been working hard developing the material on the road before arriving at La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines to record with Manfred Eicher.  Alessi and Coltrane have been long-time friends and musical associates since their time as students at California Institute of Arts in the late 1980s, both are now based in New York.

This is a proper CD recording – just over one hour’s music, with none of that pseudo-vinyl 40-minute nonsense!  It comprises nine tracks, all Alessi compositions. 

Iram Issela (named after Alessi’s young daughter) commences with a chordal progression on solo piano, to which Alessi adds atmospheric trumpet, followed by Gress and Ferber.  This is quintessential ECM stuff with sonorous overtones from Coltrane’s tenor in the central section.

Oxide reduces the music to its individual chemical constituents, slowly converging to form a smoke-like wraith of melody, in gaseous form.  Did I detect a bit of rust on the piano?  Prepared piano is quoted as being used by Milne on some of the tracks.  The wraith disappears as mysteriously as it came. 

Improper Authorities jolts the listener out of their induced trance with an almost drum ‘n’ bass-like rhythm set up by Ferber and Gress.  Coltrane’s tenor and Milne’s piano provide the melodic surface layer, joined later by trumpet.

Pittance reverts to the more meditative vibe of the first two tracks and again features prepared piano.  An extended drum solo by Ferber introduces Fun Room, joined by piano introducing a bitonal percussive theme, then improvisatory trumpet playing by Alessi - the musicians are having a great time in here!  Coltrane is finally allowed to join the fun near the end.

The title track, Imaginary Friends, brings the pace down again.  Atmospheric cymbal work with a simple repetitive piano melody and subtle arco bass introduces the concept.  The horns join the assembly with a relatively free-style overlay, but a still discernibly melodic whole is the end result.  These friends may be imaginary, but they are definitely friends. 

Around the Corner takes us back to the more characteristic (for ECM) sound of trumpet with added reverb, floating over a rhythmic and subtly melodic underlay provided by piano-bass-drums.  We are taken straight to the centre of the Melee – somewhat reminiscent of being next to a metaphorical Arc de Triomphe, surrounded by fast-moving and noisy circulation.  It takes nearly four minutes before there is a gap in the traffic and we can cross, exhausted, to a café on the Champs-Élysées for a temporary respite, before re-entering the melée towards the end.  Good Boy, a beautiful duet in rubato fashion between Alessi and Milne, closes the proceedings.

I really enjoyed this CD, and highly recommend it.  Imaginary Friends is available now (ECM 2629) and is also featured on a popular streaming site to try before you buy.
Hugh C

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