Friday, January 6, 2012

Paolo Fresu and Friends: Setting the Mood

Two of my favorite recordings for kicking back and relaxing are linked by the always lyrical trumpet and flugelhorn player Paolo Fresu. The two discs are ripe for contemplation, perhaps over a nice glass of red wine, or more precisely, per the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, with "a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou."

Mare Nostrum (2008)

Paolo Fresu: trumpet, flugelhorn
Richard Galliano: accordion, bandoneon
Jan Lundgren: piano

Mare Nostrum was the Roman name for the Mediterranean Sea, and one can easily picture sitting on its sun drenched coast, on a beach or in a small square, listening to this elegant recording by three acknowledged European masters at their craft. Wistful at times, playful at others; tranquil and restrained often, but then light and up-tempo in others; the images evoke the pleasures of the late afternoon when work is done and the pleasures of the evening begin. The accordion in particular creates a Parisian mood, and nostalgia for sitting at a cafe, idling in a park, or strolling the streets of the Latin Quarter or other quaint arrondissements.

The surprising trio of accordion, trumpet and piano sounds natural in its combination, on an album clearly led by all three masters. The 15 compositions include originals by all three musicians and several covers, and range from jazz and tango to classical and folk music. The easy camraderie delights the senses and the peaceful mood is maintained thoughout both the slow and fast pieces, balanced neatly between playfulness and restraint. The recording ends with the lilting, melancholic Swedish folksong "Varvindar Friska", a lovely end to a uniformly warm experience. 

ChiaroscuroChiaroscuro  (2010)

Ralph Towner: Acoustic Guitars
Paolo Fresu: Trumpet and Flugelhorn

As with " Mare Nostrum", the title of this album "Chiaroscuro" sets a clear image of the  music to come. In painting chiaroscuro is a technique of painting or drawing using light and shade to achieve a three-dimensional quality. In this recording, the two musicians use the arrangement of  their musical sounds -- light and dark, piccolo and forte, sound and silence, guitar and horn -- to create outstanding aural pictures that captivate  the listener. Again, the mood is tranquil, but the suggestion of evening is even stronger than in the previous record, as light and dark begin to merge. This is not a recording that suggests the bright light of day. Note how the cover art is in absolute harmony with  the music within, and sets a mood even before the first note is played.

And what notes they are. Fresu’s trademark lyricism, soulful and uncluttered, is among the album’s most alluring aspects. Towner's deep woody tones, particularly on his baritone guitar are a marvel of simplicty. The baritone's lower register is featured on Towner's solo piece "Sacred Ground." The CD never steps too far to the dark side, and seems to be heavily influenced by sounds reminiscent of Miles Davis' classic "Kind of Blue", no more clearly than when Fresu plays a muted horn on a cover of Davis’s “Blue In Green.” The lyrical mood is offset at other times by more flowing and rhythmic passages, which keeps the CD from becoming monotonous. Overall, the album is a study in virtuosic precision between two complementary players and instruments.

This, too, is a recording with which a glass of wine would be perfect. It is a recording to enjoy in the company of friends and family while sitting back and savoring the day. 

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