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Sunday, November 8, 2009

News from ECM

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.


Christmas music has been an enthusiasm of Carla Bley’s for decades, and traditional and non-traditional seasonal pieces are here subjected to her offbeat wit and idiosyncratic arranging skills. Selections include “O Tannenbaum”, “Away In A Manger”, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, “Jingle Bells”,. “O Holy Night” and “Joy To the World”, plus Mel Tormé’s The “Christmas Song” and a brace of Carla’s own pieces – “Jesus Maria” (first recorded by Jimmy Giuffre back in 1961), and, giving the devil his due, “Hell’s Bells”. “Carla’s Christmas Carols” was recorded in La Buissonne Studios in the South of France after a whirlwind tour of Europe at the end of 2008, and folds in two pieces from that tour (recorded live in Berlin). The pleasure that the musicians find in the material is unmistakable and, perhaps particularly after a glass of mulled wine, contagious.

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