Jazzablanca 2019: Paolo Fresu on his mission to expand the sound of the trumpet

The Italian jazz man says the instrument can be played across all genres

Paolo Fresu performs at Jazzablanca Festival on June 2, 2019. Courtesy: Jazzablanca Festival
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When your partner is a musician, there is no such thing as a holiday. Even a honeymoon for that matter.

When renowned Italian trumpeter and composer Paolo Fresu got married over a decade ago, he decided to take his wife along with the band as part of an extensive tour of Morocco.

“Oh, it was lovely,” Fresu recalls. “We went everywhere, the Atlas Mountains and the great cities like Fes and Essaouira where I played as part of the Gnawa festival.”

Fresu is now back in the North African kingdom, albeit only with his three-piece band, to perform as part of the Jazzablanca Festival. This time around, he is spoilt for choice when it comes to his set-list.

The year may have reached only the half way mark, but Fresu already released two different and distinct albums that showcases the emotional depth of his chosen instrument.

In Mare Nostrum III, he teams up again with French accordionist Richard Galliano and Swedish pianist Jan Lundgren to release a suite of affecting jazz suites focusing on the various nature of human relationships.

While in Altissima Luce, Fresu is part of quartet and choir revisiting a host of 13th century religious songs inspired by the lauds of St Francis of Assisi. Where the former transfixes with its intimacy, this project is as ambitious as it is moving. The blend of Fresu's elongated trumpet notes and the soaring vocals from the choir is a sonic wonder to behold.

“Doing the Altissima project was challenging for me. What attracted me to it was the mystery of these melodies. If you pay attention to them, they are monodic melodies — meaning it is just one note after another, without arrangement or harmonies,” he says. “So it was fantastic for me to take it and bring to a chamber orchestra and choir.”

These varied career moves are part of Fresu’s mission to expand people’s perceptions of the trumpet.

“It is a wonderful instrument in that it has a sound that you can really share with everybody, from classical music to rock, pop and soul music,” he says.

“I listen to all kinds of music at home, from the jazz greats like Chet Baker and Miles Davis to the music on the radio. I do that because when I get on stage from my concerts, I want to bring all these different elements together.”

Fresu’s Jazzablanca concert on June 2 was indeed a melange of styles and vibes, as he veered from almost a classic big band sound to a more frenzied rock attitude. He may have been backed by a competent drummer, but it was his trumpet licks that often dictated the rhythm.

A lot of that is down to Fresu’s first childhood experience with music in rural Sardinia. “We had a farm and we had a cow and sheep,” he recalls. “It was a simple life and the biggest thing there, when it comes to entertainment, was the marching band.”

Joining the group for a short spell at 16 years old, Fresu credits the band for instilling principles he still holds today on and off the stage.

“It may sound strange to you but in the south of Italy the marching band is an important music school,” he says.

“A lot of great trombone and saxophone players come from that region because of the marching band. In Italy, the band is full of different ages. I was a young person in a group where the oldest was nearly 80. So it teaches you important things such as communication and respecting your fellow player. This is not just good for music, but also for life.”