Label/Year: ECM, 2017
Lineup - Ralph Towner: guitars
Resourceful acoustic guitarist Ralph Towner has been an exemplary case of productivity and dedication since his first appearances in the early 70s.
His virtuosity is patented in a variety of recordings whose listenings will disclose the incomparable sound and accurate technique that make him unique.
Towner was a co-founder of Oregon, a world-fusion chamber jazz group that also included the versatile experimentalists Collin Walcott, Paul McCandless, and Glen Moore. In this particular band, his instrument was not only the guitar but also the keyboards. He was also a crucial member of the new age ensemble led by the American saxophonist Paul Winter, during its early phase.
In 1973, he started a collaborative association with the record label ECM and that fruitful liaison was extended until the present time. In truth, My Foolish Heart is his 23rd album as a leader/co-leader on the cited label and is now out to prove him in top form.
On this new record, Towner returns to the solo format 11 years after Time Line (ECM, 2006). Since then, he has recorded with guitarists Slava Grigoryan and Wolfgang Muthspiel, as well as with the Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu.
Charged with Third Stream improvisation, “Pilgrim” opens the recording with strong folk influences that are definitely not American but rather Eastern.
Through the passionate melodies of “I’ll Sing to You”, the guitarist exhibits his technical splendor translated into stylish fingerpicking, shivering trills, and modern classical lyricism. The enormous facility in combining melody and harmony in a smooth, seamless manner comes to our attention again in “Saultier”, which feels less folk and more postbop.
The title track, a bright rendition of a widely-known jazz standard, is delivered with sentimental melancholy, naturally contrasting with the stunning “Clarion Call” where the rich sounds of a 12-string guitar infuse a transcendental beauty. My soul was filled with these hypnotic, often percussive reverberations modulated with delay effect, and decisive guitar slides and harmonics. Connotations with world music and progressive jazz are easily identifiable and can be heard again in the shorter “Binding Time”.
Different moods are those of “Dolomiti Dance”, steeply folk in its most traditional current, and “Rewind”, another compound of jazz and classical with splashes of Brazil fragrances, in the same line of Toquinho.
Another eclectic paragon is “Blue as in Bley”, a piece composed for the late pianist Paul Bley that overflows with enigmatic multi-colored tones resultant from postbop, classical, folk, and blues.
Ralph Towner has enough inventive qualities to never step on clichés. Whether extemporizing his own originals, working as a sideman, or digging selected jazz standards with circumstantial vision, Towner is always immensely vibrant in his musical approach.
02 – I’ll Sing to You ► 06 – Clarion Call ► 11 – Blue as in Bley