Listening to Paolo Fresu play with Ralph Towner is like being bathed in tranquility.
It's not that their music is repetitive – definitely the opposite – but rather that the interplay between trumpet/flugelhorn and acoustic guitar is so surefooted that listeners can simply relax and enjoy the two trading melodies back and forth.
The Monday night audience in Confederation Park responded to the beauty and (relatively) low volume of the music by becoming uncharacteristically quiet. Parents shushed their children; there were almost no side conversations. Almost everyone was intent and listening.
The first four pieces they played were written by Towner; the first one, "Punta Giara", honoured the town in Sardinia where he and Fresu first played together 15 years ago. After that, the titles were mostly not announced, but included what appeared further originals as well as jazz standards like Miles Davis' "Blue in Green", on which Fresu played an evocative solo, not replaying Miles but reinterpreting the melody.
The two played for just over an hour, including an encore demanded by a standing ovation, to an audience that remained intent despite rain that started spitting about 45 minutes in their set. Most of the pieces appeared to be from their recent album, Chiaroscuro (ECM, 2009); a highlight was Towner's "Doubled Up", a faster-paced piece that matched a strong rhythm on guitar with call and return on flugelhorn. The encore, "Summer's End", was highly romantic – even lush – despite the minimal instrumentation.
Paolo Fresu and Ralph Towner played on the Main Stage at the Ottawa Jazz Festival on Monday, June 28, at 7:30 p.m.
– Alayne McGregor