Ralph Towner has been making records for ECM since the very early days of the label, whilst this – as far as I can remember – is one of the first occasions on which Sardinian trumpeter Paolo Fresu has recorded for them. Apparently Towner & Fresu first met 15 years ago when Fresu played trumpet in a large ensemble piece that Towner was performing in Italy
In that respect, you could say that ‘Chiaroscuro‘ (2009) has had a lengthy gestation, but it has certainly been worth the wait, if only because it seems to have re-invigorated Towner’s playing and, for me, is the best record he’s made for years.
A list of great trumpet/guitar duo albums would probably be right up there with ‘Understated Queen Songs’ or ’12-inch Nick Drake Disco remixes’ as one of the world’s shortest musical lists, but having listened several times to ‘Chiaroscuro‘, I am left wondering why. I found myself speculating as to what would have happened had Miles and John McLaughlin been stranded in the studio one day, waiting for the rest of the band to arrive and decided to knock out a few duo numbers while they waited….
Talk of Miles is not too wide of the mark where Paolo Fresu is concerned as he is clearly heavily influenced by Miles and has already recorded ‘Kind of Porgy & Bess’ (2002), which is exactly what the title would suggest; a modern small-group take on a Miles large-ensemble classic. He brings that burnished tone to these sessions, both with and without a mute and the results are often extremely impressive.
Towner, meanwhile, is his usual graceful self, comping sympathetically behind Fresu, then stepping out with his own assertive lines. His playing seems to be in really good shape, which is a positive sign. Recent solo and trio sessions over the last few years have sounded rather arid and uninspired to my ears, but ‘Chiaroscuro‘ is a real return to form.
For me, highlights would have to be Towner’s ‘Zephyr’ – an old Oregon tune if I’m not mistaken – and a beautiful version of Miles’/Bill Evans’ ‘Blue In Green’. However, I’m getting picky now, because there is a minimum of filler on this excellent CD; most of the tracks are beautifully realised and the whole project makes for very satisfying listening.