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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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RALPH TOWNER / PAOLO FRESU

Chiaroscuro

ECM 179 7510

 

 

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

Ralph Towner - Classical, 12-string and baritone guitars
Paolo Fresu - Trumpet, flugelhorn

 

The title of this new CD, Chiaroscuro, means "bright and dark". Originally applied to a style of painting which emphasised contrasting light and shadow, it might well describe this album, which consists of both bright and subdued music. But the predominant mood is muted, with no up-tempo tracks and a general feeling of quiet contemplation. This seems typical of many recent ECM releases, where the Scandinavian style of understatement increasingly seems to prevail. However, these duettists are not Scandinavians. Guitarist Ralph Towner is an American who now lives in Italy, and trumpeter Paolo Fresu is from Sardinia.

The combination of guitar and trumpet (or flugelhorn) is unusual, to say the least and you might expect it to present some problems, such as the trumpet overpowering the guitar. However, Paolo generally plays quietly, with only occasional louder outbursts, and he is beautifully accompanied by Ralph Towner, whose solo work is also first-class. On a variety of acoustic guitars, Ralph is able to sound like a whole orchestra - albeit a subdued and subtle one. He has already shown himself a master of understatement with the group Oregon and his deliacte playing here is a constant pleasure.

Paolo Fresu makes no secret of his admiration for Miles Davis, and his trumpet style is very reminiscent of Miles - especially in the album's only non-original: Blue in Green, composed by Miles Davis and Bill Evans. Ralph Towner wrote seven of the other tunes, and co-wrote the last two with Fresu. You might call the tunes "ballads", except that they are mostly out-of-tempo and don't have readily identifiable melodies. In fact this is a long way from conventional jazz that makes you tap your foot. All the tracks seem like meditations rather than tunes - and there's nothing wrong with that, although the sameness of the styles can become monotonous for anyone seeking variety of approach.

Nonetheless, this doesn't prevent the music being enchanting, as the free rhythm and slow tempos allow the musicians to show their lyrical sides. The last two tracks appear to be free improvisation but they demonstrate the empathy between the two musicians.

Tony Augarde



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