Paolo Fresu is a stream. Of elegance. Of music. Of textures of sound. Of records. But above all, of meetings. His name appears on more than 300 albums, each more varied than the last. But the Sardinian trumpeter has always remained a craftsman of a lyrical jazz, refined and elegant. Shockingly elegant even! For his 60th birthday, which he will celebrate on February 10, we take a look back at a very subjective selection of ten of his albums...

Inner Voices (1986)

For his sextet's second album, which was released in 1986 on the label Splasc(h), Paolo Fresu brought in one Dave Liebman. The Brooklyn saxophonist and flautist, whose name appears on hundreds of recordings (some made by Miles Davis), must have been quickly spun around and stimulated by the young Italian crew who welcomed him into Sardinia. The pianist Roberto Cipelli, the double bassist Attilio Zanchi, the drummer Ettore Fioravanti, the saxophonist Tino Tracanna and Fresu incorporate in their ultra-melodic approach to jazz the acrobatics of a Liebman who has been rejuvenated by the freshness of the music offered by his hosts. A post-bop that is well-versed in the classics (e.g. a magnificent version of Reflections by Thelonious Monk, the only cover of the record) but whose vitality prevents the genre from turning in circles or pedantically picking over the semantics of the ancients. In this transalpine scene of the 1980s, Fresu already excelled as a smuggler. As leader, he was never a dictator and displayed a fondness for exchanges and sharing. These are the beginnings of a great virtuoso melodist, one who is always curious, and invariably open to the world. And he would continue in just this vein.

Night on the City (1995)

It is necessary to return as soon as possible to this superb early-career album which was recorded in Milan in May 1994. It was almost an accident, since Night on the City, which came out on Owl, the label of producer Jean-Jacques Pussiau, actually collects some hours from a night-time recording session which had been intended for another album. Almost immediately, Paolo Fresu and his good friends (the double bassist Attilio Zanchi, the drummer Ettore Fioravanti, the pianist Roberto Cipelli and the saxophonist Tino Tracanna) embarked on a long meander that would last about fifty minutes. Each player brought a rather languid piece of material so as to be able to improvise in a hushed atmosphere all night long. The players enjoy an optimal complicity; their good-natured exchanges and improvisations treat the tradition in a tasteful manner. Because it is tradition that animates this album. We have often chided Fresu (a bit too much?) about the legacy of the Miles Davis sound that his music often brings to mind. But while the link is obvious, Fresu remains Fresu! What he says here can sometimes echo the Miles of the Fifties (and especially that of Kind of Blue) but above all, this material is European. Mediterranean, even. Although Night on the City bears the hallmarks of an ode to the night and all the associated clichés, is also a sunny album, burning brightly. This album positioned the then-33-year-old trumpeter at the forefront of modern jazz.

Shades of Chet (1999)

A highly symbolic album in more ways than one. First of all, an album that carries on the legacy of Chet Baker, one of the great influences on Paolo Fresu. And also, one that was co-signed with another equally influential forerunner: Enrico Rava. Because while the ghosts of Miles and Chet often haunt the Sardinian's music, the shade of Rava is never far away... Ten years after the American's death, Shades of Chet pays him respectful, thoughtful tribute. The repertoire, while offering essentials (My Funny Valentine in particular), is not the main thing because, as Fresu writes in the cover notes quoting Chet himself, the main thing is not what you play but how you play it. A few lines later, it is Rava who recalls that Chet's pure sound was an emanation of his soul. Having set the scene, the two trumpeters, supported by a flawless trio (pianist Stefano Bollani, drummer Roberto Gatto and double bassist Enzo Pietropaoli) juggle with the semantics of the late artist without ever putting a foot wrong. The transalpine quintet never seeks to alter the codes but rather to magnify them. It is in this elegance that the virtuosity of the tandem bursts through. As on this beautiful re-reading of Anthropology by Charlie Parker, an impeccable tango between bugle and trumpet. A tribute that reveals the artist's poetry and his great emotional depth over the course of the album.

Things (2006) 

The cover of Things speaks volumes... The photo of a drawer where objects from the past and the present collide, practical, useless or fetishised memories, vestiges of a trip or a meeting... This is probably the material used here by Paolo Fresu and Uri Caine. The Sardinian trumpeter and the pianist (both acoustic and electric) from Philadelphia met several times, both on stage and in the studio. Released in 2006 on the Blue Note label, Things is the first snapshot of the duo. This treasure chest of a repertoire mixes original themes, eternal standards (Everything Happens to Me, Dear Old Stockholm, I Loves You Porgy...), Italian folk song (E se domani) and even classical gems (Monteverdi's madrigal Si dolce è il tormento). Motley scores that make the most of contrasts... Their unprecedented complicity is telepathic, the fusion of their instruments is magical. Fresu and Caine also show that their minimalist approach sheds an almost unconventional and original light, even on the standards they have picked out – classics which are often enjoyed in lush versions. But they never rest on their musical laurels and, six times, they punctuate their exchanges with short interludes of less than a minute. These amazing, never-excessive electronic noodlings enhance the flavour of their exchanges. Paolo Fresu and Uri Caine would return in 2009, again on Blue Note, with the album Think conceived with the Alborada String Quartet; and again, seven years later, on Two Minuettos recorded live at the Teatro dell'elfo in Milan for Tǔk Music, the trumpeter's label.

Chiaroscuro (2009)

An additional encounter for the serial teamer-upper Paolo Fresu? Much more than that... on classical guitar, baritone guitar or even on a 12-string, Ralph Towner's touch is immediately recognisable to the point that the American is considered to be among the greatest virtuosos of his instrument, having often recorded solo and almost always for the German label ECM. His guitar style has been influenced by the jazz of pianist Bill Evans (his idol!) as well as baroque, contemporary, Brazilian and folk music. While his face-to-face with Fresu is a first, the two men have known each other for a good fifteen years. Enough to harmonise, in a snap of the fingers, in a shared sensibility that is at the heart of their conversation, essentially centred around Towner's compositions, be they solo pieces or those from his former band Oregon, such as the magnificent Zephyr. Both play with a virtuosity that is all their own, without ever showing off. This restraint inhabits every second of Chiaroscuro which was recorded in Norway, at the Rainbow Studio in Oslo, in October 2008. Here again, Ralph Towner and Paolo Fresu alike build up their poetry without words and weigh every note they play. Theirs is a streamlined approach that reaches its climax on the cover of Blue in Green. Bill Evans for Towner, Miles Davis for Fresu, it is no wonder that the duo devour, from top to bottom, this standard which was co-authored by the two legends that they venerate, on the album Kind of Blue. But the most fascinating thing about this record remains the impact that each has on the other. The elegance and goodwill each deploys for the benefit of their colleague. It is this mutual respect that lets this masterpiece flourish.