Ralph Towner, Paolo Fresu

An exciting new duo, of unusual instrumentation, initiated by American master guitarist Ralph Towner. Towner’s acoustic guitar concept has long since absorbed and abstracted influences from baroque music, contemporary composition, Brazilian music and jazz, above all the jazz of Bill Evans. In this programme of Towner originals and improvisations, the sole cover version is “Blue In Green”. the Bill Evans/Miles Davis tune from the classic “Kind of Blue” album – an apt choice for Sardinia-born trumpeter Paolo Fresu, whose pure and elegant tone still carries echoes of early Miles. Towner’s own pieces offer continually changing landscapes for Fresu’s horn to grace, in a very poetic and lyrical set whose gradations of light and shade, of sound and shadows, are beautifully recorded. “Chiaroscuro” is Towner’s 22nd ECM disc as a leader and Fresu’s first – although the trumpeter guest-starred on Carla Bley’s prize-winning “The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu”, issued on WATT in 2007.

Featured Artists Recorded

October 2008, Artesuono Recording Studio, Udine

Original Release Date


  • 1Wistful Thinking
    (Ralph Towner)
  • 2Punta Giara
    (Ralph Towner)
  • 3Chiaroscuro
    (Ralph Towner)
  • 4Sacred Place
    (Ralph Towner)
  • 5Blue In Green
    (Bill Evans, Miles Davis)
  • 6Doubled Up
    (Ralph Towner)
  • 7Zephyr
    (Ralph Towner)
  • 8Sacred Place (Reprise)
    (Ralph Towner)
  • 9Two Miniatures
    (Paolo Fresu, Ralph Towner)
  • 10Postlude
    (Paolo Fresu, Ralph Towner)
Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik, Bestenliste 1/2010
In keeping with its title, this is a high-contrast work, with the duo providing flashes of spectral illumination from within a deep cloud of enfolding aural darkness. Towner moves between classical, 12-string and baritone guitars, the latter beautifully complemented by Fresu’s flugelhorn.
Robert Shore, Jazzwise
In exploring such an unusual dialogue as that between Paolo Fresu’s Miles Davis-like trumpet and flugelhorn and his own acoustic guitars, Towner opens new windows on his delicate songs.
John Fordham, The Guardian
Schöner und lyrischer geht es kaum. Hier haben sich zwei ganz stark verwandte Stimmen gefunden. … Jazz? Ungewöhnlich besetzte Kammermusik? Es ist beides. Und doch noch viel mehr: Hinreißend intensive und feine Dialoge zwischen akustischer Gitarre und Trompete oder wahlweise Flügelhorn kann man hier hören. … Geheimnisvoll und soghaft sind die Räume, die Towner und Fresu mit ihrer Musik schaffen. Sie spielen fast ausschließlich Kompositionen von Ralph Towner – bis auf den Miles-Davis-Bill-Evans-Klassiker „Blue in Green“ und zwei freie Improvisationen. Lauter Meisterwerke der Stimmführung – oder besser: der Stimmen-Aufeinanderzu-Bewegung, -Verschränkung und kunstvollen Auflösung sind dabei herausgekommen.
Roland Spiegel, BR-Klassik „CD aktuell“
Ein Duo aus Gitarre und Trompete ist eine rare Kombination. Dennoch klingen Ralph Towner und Paolo Fresu … traumwandlerisch sicher und selbstverständlich. Verhalten und doch voller Schmelz der Ton des italienischen Trompeters, eine ideale Ergänzung zu den sanft geschwungenen Linien des amerikanischen Gitarristen.
Rolf Thomas, Jazzthing
Towner/Fresu ist eine Partnerschaft made in heaven. Beide sind sie große Melomanen, und Towner ist dazu nicht nur ein unvergleichlich orchestraler Gitarrist, sondern auch ein großer Komponist. … Fabelhaft.
Peter Rüedi, Weltwoche

“Chiaroscuro” introduces a new duo and a rare instrumental combination – trumpet and acoustic guitar. The repertoire: a programme of old and new Ralph Towner compositions and duo improvisations, plus an old Miles Davis favourite, its presence a key to the musical priorities at work here.

The album was recorded last autumn in Udine, but the story of the Towner/Fresu alliance really begins further South, at a festival in Sardinia, 15 years ago. Towner had been commissioned to write music for a local ensemble. Fresu was its trumpeter. “I didn’t know him at all then,” Ralph recalls, “but from the very first phrase that he played, I thought: ‘This guy really understands melodies!’ And I thought there and then that we should do some more work together.”

The composition played that night, “Punta Giara”, resurfaces here in rearranged form, along with pieces shaped especially for this album, including the title track, a study in strong contrasts. The atmospheric “Sacred Place”, heard in two versions, and “Doubled Up” bring Towner’s new baritone guitar to the fore. Tuned a fifth below his classical concert guitar it allows him new flexibility in the low range, and the freedom to be, effectively, his own bassist on the clever “Doubled Up”, the most overtly jazz-like of the new tunes. .“’Doubled up’ has many meanings, of course, including doubled up with laughter. Here the theme is sequenced, so to speak, the events happen twice, each theme ‘doubled’ by the two players.”

Two pieces from Ralph’s ECM back-catalogue are revisited: “Wistful Thinking (originally heard as a solo piece on “Open Letter”, in 1992), and “Zephyr” (first scored for the band Oregon on 1987’s “Ecotopia”).

Of the subtle account of “Blue In Green”, Towner says., “I’d always wanted to do that song with a trumpet.” Paolo Fresu’s clear, vibratoless sound acknowledges its debt to Miles. Fresu has always been forthright about his formative influences (his bold remaking of “Porgy and Bess” in 2001 being a case in point). For Towner, as for so many musicians, “Kind of Blue” was a pivotal recording: “The whole ensemble was amazing, but especially Miles and the great Bill Evans working together - my favourite musicians of all time, in the improvising sphere.”

The album concludes with “Two Miniatures” and “Postlude”, improvisations that put the spotlight on the 12.string guitar, extending an approach that had worked well on Ralph’s solo albums “Anthem” and “Time Line”. “I like to do these free things – well ‘free’ is really a misnomer. The same compositional process is at work, but you only get one shot at it.”