Collaborating with veteran trumpeter Paolo Fresu in an intimate setting is something guitarist Ralph Towner has wanted to do for more than a decade, and it’s easy to understand why given their elegant, simpatico rapport.
All told, five instruments--classical, baritone and 12 string guitars, plus trumpet and flugelhorn--come into play on Chiaroscuro, an apt title for an album that boasts a distinctive array of tonal contrasts. “Wistful Thinking,” for starters, has been reconfigured by Towner, who focuses on arpeggiated lines and resonant chords while Fresu quietly sustains the haunting melody on flugelhorn. The album is devoted to original pieces save for one: “Blue In Green,” a muted, insinuating tribute to Miles Davis that slowly unfurls in free time. “Doubled Up,” on the other hand, is marked by nimble interplay and Towner’s percussive attack on baritone guitar, as he deftly moves between the instrument’s expanded low register and some sparkling harmonics. “The Sacred Place,” which surfaces twice here, has a hymnal quality and glow, with Abercrombie again on baritone. While Fresu’s trademark lyricism, soulful and uncluttered, is among the album’s most alluring aspects, it’s also a pleasure to hear him freely improvise with Towner as the album draws to a close.
Of course, this CD won’t be a hard sell for listeners familiar with the duet recordings Towner has made with Gary Burton, John Abercrombie and Gary Peacock. But Chiaroscuro, in the end, is a remarkable thing apart.