Jazz duo proves to be both new and timeless 

“Chiaroscuro,” ECM’s felicitous recorded pairing of two jazz greats, guitarist Ralph Towner and trumpet-flugelhorn artist Paolo Fresu, hit the virtual record bins just 11 days before the duo’s performance this weekend at SF Jazz.

Towner, 70, former lead guitarist, composer and keyboardist for acoustic jazz ensemble Oregon, and trumpeter Paolo Fresu, 49, first met at a festival in Sardinia in 1995.

When Towner, who had been commissioned to write music for the festival, first heard Fresu perform, he immediately thought, “This guy really understands melodies!”

Fresu also understands Towner’s highly individual, quasi-improvisational style.

As they meld on “Punta Giara,” an arrangement of the tune Towner wrote 15 years ago for the gig in Sardinia, they seem cut of one moody cloth. The same goes for arrangements of pieces Towner recorded for ECM as long ago as 1987.

The atmosphere and refinement we expect from ECM artists comes to the fore, both in recordings of Towner’s old and new compositions and in the duo’s exquisite take on Miles Davis’ “Blue in Green.”

Towner and Fresu’s outing, the second of six concerts in SF Jazz’s first and hopefully ongoing ECM series, follows a sold-out evening by longtime ECM artist Keith Jarrett. (Jarrett’s name may have greater cachet, but many cognoscenti will agree that Towner and Fresu are the more harmonically and emotionally adventurous.)

Towner has added a new baritone guitar to his classical and 12-string instruments. Tuned a fifth below the classical guitar that he studied in Vienna in the early 1960s, it allows him to play bass to Fresu’s trumpet in the jazzy “Doubled Up.”

The two men sound as happy gliding gently on Towner’s melodies as flapping their wings and taking flight on its faster moving lines.

It comes as no surprise that an artist who began performing in the Paul Winter Consort before co-founding Oregon would write and play music that sounds simultaneously new and timeless.

“Two Miniatures,” for example, crosses the line between free-form jazz improvisation and New Music. Most important, it does so without a trace of self-consciousness, like a bird that crosses boundaries while caring only for the pull of the wind. It should be a marvelous evening.

 

IF YOU GO

Ralph Towner with Paolo Fresu

Presented by SF Jazz

Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum, 701 Mission St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $22 to $50

Contact: (866) 920-5299, www.sfjazz.org

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