Ralph Towner/Paolo Fresu | Chiaroscuro

ECM (2010)
By JON GARELICK  |  March 16, 2010
3.5 3.5 Stars

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For some, these open, airy, acoustic guitar/trumpet duets, couched in typically pristine ECM production, will fall too easily on the ear — somewhere between smooth jazz and old-school new age. But that surface is deceptive. Oregon guitarist Towner and trumpeter Fresu (who made his ECM debut on a 2007 Carla Bley Lost Chords project) here take as their presiding spirit Miles Davis, whose "Blue in Green" they cover.

Miles is just a point of departure, however. There's all manner of textural and rhythmic variety — the subtle, undulating dance rhythms of Towner's "Punta Giara," his folk-hymnal "Sacred Place" (performed once as a guitar solo and once as a duo, with Fresu's open horn suggesting a brass chorale), the free improvs of the closing "Two Miniatures" and "Postlude."

Towner brings his usual chops and taste to six-string, 12-string, and baritone guitars, and Fresu mixes it up with mutes and flügelhorn. But the real news here is Fresu himself, his lyricism and big beautiful tone warm and glowing in the cool production. In his combination of precision and conversational relaxation on a free-tempo tune like Towner's "Zephyr," you can almost hear his notes and phrases as syllables and words.

RALPH TOWNER & PAOLO FRESU | Regattabar, Charles Hotel, 1 Bennett St, Cambridge | March 23 @ 7:30 pm | $22 | regattabarjazz.com

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