After Enrico Rava, the most important trumpet player in Italy is Paolo Fresu. The fact that he is not well known in the United States may be about to change, because he is now an ECM recording artist. The label has placed him with major people: Carla Bley on The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu in 2007 and now guitarist Ralph Towner on Chiaroscuro.
A pairing of trumpet and acoustic guitar is unusual. Towner and Fresu have played together rarely and never before as a duo but they are made for each other. Both are post-modernist romantics and erudite improvisers who take moment-to-moment liberties with melodic form. Each has spent most of his life working on his sound.
There are few sounds in jazz as sensually seductive as Towner's classical, 12-string and baritone guitars. As for Fresu, his long notes somehow contain both flawless golden light and human frailty. Chiaroscuro has the crystalline sonic quality for which ECM recordings are renowned and can be enjoyed as pure ear candy. But there is substance below the pretty surface of this music. Towner wrote most of the tunes and they subtly shift in pace and mood and evolve with a particular rapt patience and inner drama. "Wistful Thinking" is so ephemeral it barely penetrates the air but the title track is built on sharp contrast: clean trumpet lines, repeated like incantations, against deep layers of guitar pinpoints.
Towner's intelligent, counterintuitive music provides inspirational settings, but the one standard makes you wish there were more. On "Blue In Green" Fresu channels Miles Davis, drawing out the theme in silver whispers. Hearing "Blue In Green" stripped down and shared between only two eloquent instruments makes it fresh, even as it returns to that familiar existential midnight first visited on Kind Of Blue (Columbia, 1959).
Wistful Thinking; Punta Giara; Chiaroscuro; Sacred Place; Blue in Green; Doubled Up; Zephyr; Sacred Place (reprise); Two Miniatures; Postlude.
Ralph Towner: classical, 12-string and baritone guitars; Paolo Fresu: trumpet, flugelhorn.