Paolo Fresu Devil Quartet – Desertico

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If Paolo Fresu is quickly becoming one of the most sought after trumpet players it might easily be because he calls to mind a sound that was attributed to Miles Davis’ most famous “electric period”.

In reality that aspect of his playing—the hollow and lonesome howl of his horn—is only part of the enormous talent that is Paolo Fresu’s claim to fame. Mr. Fresu has clearly absorbed much of Miles Davis’ aching sound, but he is much less sardonic in his expression; gives less of a feeling of hopelessness even as he sounds melancholic. His powerful and poetic statements on Desertico find the trumpeter in fine voice with his Devil Quartet. On this album Mr. Fresu is most forthright in his playing and he ascends into an almost rarefied realm, especially on the ballads, whether he plays the softer sounding flugelhorn or his strikingly familiar trumpet.

Paolo Fresu is a horn player who displays sublime musicianship on the trumpet. He uses an immense palette of colours that are sometimes vivid and almost as colloidal as their sonic aspects are viscous and almost four-dimensionally rounded. At other times Mr. Fresu might play as if he were using a brazen brush dipped in whimsical water colours, used to provide the gentlest hues to notes that are almost flattened. The result here is musical lines that sometimes frolic and gambol like the proverbial blur left in the wake of a bounding gazelle. The linear melodies from his horn soon fade, with brilliant harmonies, into musical arcs and sweeping parabolas that create astonishing soundscapes as if at the hand of a musical Merlin. At other times Mr. Fresu sounds as if he were Japanese painter lightly daubing a canvas with delicately conceived shapes in barely discernible colours. So soft and gossamer-like is his playing in such instances that it seems almost magical; as he were almost completely playing in his spirit and barely in the flesh.

Mr. Fresu is not the only one who shines brightly on this album. Much of the sound of the music that has been created here is due to the immense empathy that exists between the musicians who accompany him in the Devil Quartet. For instance the ensemble playing on “Ambre” as well as on the medley with which the quartet ends this album is so finely intertwined it emerges as an intricately wrought musical fabric that grows flows diaphanous as the music progresses and the story of those precious moments devolves from one instrument to the other; from one solo to the other. With his kind of stylized poetics Mr. Fresu sounds magnificent when he attempts musical balladry. His interpretation of Edward Heyman’s and Oscar Levant’s bitter-sweet chart “Blame It On My Youth” is an unforgettable example of just how powerful and hypnotic his playing can be. However, the arrangement of the piece also encourages guitarist, Bebo Ferra, bassist Paolino Dalla Porta and drummer Stefano Bagnoli to let their individual and singular voices be heard. Each of the musicians acquit themselves with distinction as they turn the song into something quite hypnotic; played at an agonizingly slow pace to bring its elemental pain alive.

This album also revisits sounds that are full of moments of sheer joyful music. Soli by Mr. Dalla Porta on “All Items” as well as on “Desertico” help to shape the swagger of the Mediterranean rhythms that dapple the album. Here notes hang like plump fruit as their songs dance in the heat of the proverbial Mediterranean breeze. The quartet’s take on the Rolling Stones’ “[I Can’t Get No] Satisfaction” is a refreshing re-arrangement of a rollicking chart that swings mightily as the quartet breaks it down. But it is charts like the charismatic “Poetto’s Sky,” “Voci Oltre” and the final melody on the album that give this record its character: a magnificent musical journey by four young searchers who are unafraid to examine what it is like to let their individual characters and personalities interact without pre-conceived notions and any pre-conditions whatsoever.

Tracks: [I Can’t Get No] Satisfaction; La Follia Italiana; Ambre; All Items; Blame It On My Youth; Desertico; Suite For Devil; Poetto’s Sky; Voci Oltre; Young Forever; Medley – A: Ninna Nanna Per Andrea; B: Inno.

Personnel: Paolo Fresu: trumpet, flugelhorn and multi effects; Bebo Ferra: electric and acoustic guitars; Paolino Dalla Porta: double bass; Stefano Bagnoli: drums.

Paolo Fresu on the Web: paolofresu.it

Label: Bonsaï Music | Release date: February 2013

Reviewed by: Raul da Gama