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Towner, Ralph/Paolo Fresu: Chiaroscuro

There's an old saying that goes something like "there's 2 sides to every story", and that saying is quite applicable when describing the new release Chiaroscuro from Ralph Towner & Paolo Fresu. When first making your way through this new ECM release, you'll notice the atmospheric, jazzy sounds that breathe and soar, with Towner's lush guitar work providing the tapestry for Fresu's far reaching trumpet & flugelhorn lines to solo over. However, towards the back end of the album, the duo harness some darker, avant-garde sounds that make for a much more demanding listen for the music fan. Combining the two styles, Chiaroscuro overall is a varied set and a great way to spend 45 minutes soaking in some quality music. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Long time ECM artist Towner should be a stranger to no fan of jazz and fusion music, as he's recorded numerous albums on his own, with bands Oregon & Solstice, as well as countless duo projects, over the last 40 years. Fresu, while much younger than Towner, has appeared on some 300 albums in his career, recording with the likes of Gerry Mulligan, John Abercrombie, Gil Evans, Dave Holland, and many others. Together, these two musicians make plenty of magic here on Chiaroscuro. Opening track "Wistful Thinking" features some soaring trumpet lines from Fesu over plenty of gorgeous classical guitar by Towner, and "Punta Giara" is a slightly more upbeat number with some hauntingly addicting melodies, with Towner's guitar work simply masterful, whether he's laying down some gentle chords or spewing out intricate lead lines. The title track is a dreamy, atmospheric gem, filled with Fresu's intoxicating melodies, while "Sacred Place" is a perfect example of just how wonderful acoustic guitar music can sound, as Towner proves once again why he's considered one of the top acoustic jazz players in the world. The lone cover here is the duo's version of the Mile Davis & Bill Evans classic "Blue In Green", and it's a doozy, with Towner's acrobatic guitar lines kicking things off before Fresu's lazy, hazy trumplet bleats enter the picture. A timeless classic done with class and love.

From here, things start to take on a more avant-garde feel, starting with the intricate noodling of "Doubled Up", with Towner's fingers flying up and down the fretboard and Frescu keeping up with him every step of the way. "Zephyr" is a darker, more somber piece featuring Frescu's moody horn melodies and some busy undercurrents from Townsend, and "Two Miniatures" sees both musicians stabbing the mix with complex & dissonant lines, winding around each other yet both seemingly on a separate mission. The dark, haunting "Postitude" closes things out in stark fashion, Fresu's horn echoing in the distance as Towner's bleak chords slowly close the show.

It's hard not to get sucked into the host of tones and sounds on Chiaroscuro, a wonderfully crafted collection of alluring jazz tinged pieces that is quite successful at creating and setting various moods and atmospheres. What a great way to kick off 2010-more please!

Track Listing

  1. Wistful Thinking
  2. Punta Giara
  3. Chiaroscuro
  4. Sacred Place
  5. Blue in Green
  6. Doubled Up
  7. Zephyr
  8. The Sacred Place (reprise)
  9. Two Miniatures
  10. Postitude

Added: September 23rd 2010
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: ECM Records
Hits: 3372
Language: english

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Towner, Ralph/Paolo Fresu: Chiaroscuro
Posted by Denis Brunelle, SoT Staff Writer on 2010-09-23 08:24:51
My Score:

This album unites a very unusual duo: classical guitar and a trumpet. The first one is the work of Ralph Towner, while the other is done by Paolo Fresu. Ralph also brings additional hues to his music by using a baritone guitar and occasionally a twelve strings. Paolo Fresu plays flugelhorn too on this release. This last player seems to have certain notoriety since Carla Bley wrote an album in 2007, The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu, to represent his trumpet sound.

Trumpet is not really what I would call an ear friendly instrument as such, and very few to my knowledge had the ability to make it pleasant to hear. The most notorious composer that comes to mind is Frank Zappa who had the knack to make it sound good on every occasion. This instrument can become quite stressful as it gets played louder. Now this contrasts quite a bit with the cool, relaxing and laid back classical guitar tones of Mr. Towner. I believe the choice was awkward and that other instrument like the clarinet or perhaps a saxophone would have been much southing to the ears. What you get on this album is: calm and relaxing guitar harmonies, a bit of a jazzy feel mixed with some stressful trumpet blowing parts. Tracks #4, "Sacred Place", is one of my favorite, for only the guitar is present. This composition combines calmness and a darker vibe. On spot #9, "Two Miniatures", you have something more adventurous; the trumpet is more bearable and a twelve strings was used. The following tune is basically on the same frame but the ear piercing instrument is back.

All in all, this is an half and half type of release and you get the idea as to which part is the better half. To sample before buying.

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