Album of the Week: Francesca Han and Ralph Alessi, ‘Exude’

Pianist Francesca Han and trumpeter Ralph Alessi offer their take on the trumpet-piano jazz canon in their first duo collaboration, Exude.

Jazz duos have long been recognized for their unique ability to evoke a wide range of emotions through the intimacy of interplay between two musicians. This ability is particularly evident and revitalized on Exude, a new release by pianist Francesca Han and trumpeter Ralph Alessi. The work marks their first full-length duo collaboration, despite the two artists’ paths have crossed before.

Han and Alessi push the known bounds of the traditional trumpet-piano duo, where the trumpet provides a pretty and expressive melodic line over a piano’s harmonic foundation and rhythmic support. On Exude, rather than relying on playing in unison, they create a conversational and dynamic interplay that defies such conventions and is at the service of the music, whether performing original compositions (five by Han and four by Alessi) or reinterpretations.

Their focus on dialogue and their mature awareness of space adds more dramatic depth to each track, whether on the expressive abstraction of “They Agree” or the emotional delicacy of their take on “Pannonica,” a heartfelt homage to the legendary Thelonious Monk. The album also reveals an openness to various influences, whether via the blues inflections of “Apollo Tokyo,” which opens the record, or a captivating rearrangement of the traditional Korean air, “Arirang,” one of its highlights.

Exude demonstrates the strength of the piano-trumpet jazz duo in its ability to create a balanced, dynamic and elegant sound. Han and Alessi share a remarkable chemistry, less reliant on virtuosic formalism and more on raw emotion and experimentalism, pushing the boundaries of traditional music and their instruments to create a unique sonic landscape that is both captivating and thought-provoking.

Exude by Francesca Han and Ralph Alessi is out now. Order it here.

Featured photo courtesy of the artists.

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