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Ralph Towner / Paolo Fresu: Chiaroscuro (2009)

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Ralph Towner / Paolo Fresu: Chiaroscuro How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Continuing his long and fruitful relationship with Manfred Eicher's ECM Records—yielding a slew of successful solo records and concerts, acclaimed group work with Oregon and Solstice (also featuring Jan Garbarek
Jan Garbarek
Jan Garbarek
b.1947
sax, tenor
), and duo work with John Abercrombie
John Abercrombie
John Abercrombie
b.1944
guitar
, Gary Peacock
Gary Peacock
Gary Peacock
b.1935
bass
and Gary Burton
Gary Burton
Gary Burton
b.1943
vibraphone
—guitarist/pianist Ralph Towner has become something of an icon for the German label. Chiaroscuro marks another chapter in Towner's longstanding interest in duo work, this time pairing himself with Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu
Paolo Fresu
Paolo Fresu
b.1961
trumpet
. This largely restrained and meditative duo explores, over the course of ten pieces including Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
/Bill Evans
Bill Evans
Bill Evans
1929 - 1980
piano
' "Blue in Green," the tonal variants of brass and strings, with a hint of Mediterranean atmosphere not dissimilar to bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi
Dino Saluzzi
Dino Saluzzi
b.1935
bandoneon
's ECM recordings.

"Punta Giara" is Chiaroscuro's jazziest piece. It's also the only instance of double-tracking, with Fresu's lush combination of trumpet and flugelhorn. Combining Kenny Wheeler
Kenny Wheeler
Kenny Wheeler
b.1930
trumpet
's warm lyricism and fellow-Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava
Enrico Rava
Enrico Rava
b.1943
trumpet
's distinctive rasp, Fresu's tone and range provide various opportunities for the duo to investigate timbral juxtaposition, the warmth of both horns emphasizing the crisp clarity of Towner's masterful playing. The haze of Fresu's voice swells underneath Towner's precise performance until the song becomes an interlocking, minor scale exchange between cascading horns and strings.



Two versions of "The Sacred Place"—the first, a solo feature for Towner—are by far Chiaroscuro's most serene pieces. Centered on a triumphant but melancholy melody, Towner's rustic, shimmering guitar is soaked with Fresu's fruity horn on the reprise, elevating the beauty of its melody.

Whereas Chiaroscuro's opening songs are characterized by a concerted effort to fill space naturally created by minimal performances, as it nears its end the compositions turn darker and more experimental. The gap between notes is stretched and exploited to create a more disquieting and, paradoxically, sonically rich affair. Fresu ascends on "Two Minatures" as Towner stabs the trumpeter's flight with jagged 12-string lines, the octaves singing with an eastern vernacular. Grating harmonics are married with Towner's deep, oaken percussives on "Postlude," with Fresu's tone increasingly more raspy towards its conclusion, creating an atmosphere unheard elsewhere on the album.

Chiaroscuro may be a misleading and inappropriate title for an album largely characterized by its warmth. While the first eight tunes are, indeed, beautiful and calming, they are both more predictable and less angular, less challenging. Hopefully this exciting duo's future work will be more equally balanced to highlight the fullest scope of their abilities.

Track Listing: Wistful Thinking; Punta Giara; Chiaroscuro; Sacred Place; Blue in Green; Doubled Up; Zephyr; Sacred Place (reprise); Two Miniatures; Postlude.

Personnel: Ralph Towner: classical, 12-string and baritone guitars; Paolo Fresu: trumpet, flugelhorn.

Record Label: ECM Records

Style: Modern Jazz


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