The first duo recording from pianist Francesca Han and trumpeter Ralph Alessi has been a while coming, the pair first having met in New York in 2011. Shortly thereafter, Han left the Big Appleclosing the book on an eight-year sojournthough not before recording the highly impressive Illusion (NatSat Music, 2012), which featured Alessi, Drew Gress, Corcoran Holt and Justin Brown. A decade on, Han and Alessi reunite on Exude. This joint effort is aptly named as neither holds back, though not in a virtuosic sense. Instead, as technically refined as their exchanges are, the duo invests chiefly in emotional expression, weaving contrapuntal lines of frequently haunting beauty.
With its minor-key, blues-tinged impressionism, "Apollo Tokyo" sets the tone for much of the music that follows. One of four Han originals, including the unaccompanied improvisation "Present," the pianist's hybrid jazz-classical vocabulary harbors finesse, sensitivity and subtle drama. Nowhere is this more apparent than on her blues-filtered arrangement of the traditional Korean air "Arirang," where her pristine minimalist touches in the piano's upper register, and slowly pulsing bass notes at the other end of the keys, create a bewitching counterpoint to Alessi's mournful muted voice.
Likewise, Alessi contributes four originals of handsome understatement, with "Diagonal Lady" a particular highlight. Only on the dynamically shifting ground of "Humdrum" does the trumpeter abandon the prevailing less-is-more template with a flurry of tumbling notes. In fact, authorship is almost irrelevant on narratives that are all about duo dialogue. With almost nothing in the way of unison play, bar the intro to the otherwise largely abstract "They Agree," theirs is a fluid exchange of shadows and light that eschews cliché.
The one cover, Thelonious Monk's "Pannonica," sees Han and Alessi sign off on a delicate homage that flickers with playful warmth. With a heap of acclaimed albums and collaborations over thirty years or more, Alessi's pedigree is well known, but Exude should also shine an overdue spotlight on the talented Han. A fine album from two masters of their craft.
Apollo Tokyo; Sage Advice; Arirang; Camargue; Humdrum; They Agree; Throwing Like a Girl; Diagonal Lady; Present
(Improvisation); Chrysanthemum (For Kikuchi); Pannonica.
All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.
You Can Help
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.