Jazz CD Reviews
Ralph Towner, acoustic guitar – Time Line – ECM
Published on May 10, 2006
Guitarist Towner’s latest album is his 21st for ECM, for whom he has been recording since 1972. Known for his appearances on the label with Oregon, Azimuth, and with such other top artists as Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek and Egberto Gismonti, Towner has decided to concentrate on original tunes this time (except for two). He also turns from his usual six-string classical guitar to a 12-string for the final two selections on the disc. One of these is Gershwin’s My Man’s Gone Now, which Towner feels sounds especially interesting due to the steel strings on he 12-string.
Another interesting sonic aspect of the CD is the venue – the church of a mountain monastery in Austria. Towner recorded without the usual headphones, and he reports that projecting the music into the very large space he was conscious of the natural reverberation of the church and worked with that as part of the total sound. (Too bad we can’t hear this in multichannel SACD.)
Towner describes the CD as “really about my path with the guitar, aspects of this long journey that is still developing – looking backwards and forwards.” To illustrate that theme the CD photography both on the jewel box and the note booklet is semi-blurred shots of a landscape seen from a moving train or car. This time ECM’s sometimes frustrating penchant for including a number of photos but no notes on the music really works: the photos instantly suggest journeys you have taken. Plus the one on the back of the jewel box, in certain lighting, has a startling 3D effect.
Some of the tunes are inspired by places in Sicily, where Towner has lived (his wife is Sicilian). Another grew out of his accompanying a Neapolitan singer. There are five very short improvisations, selected from many more that Towner played during the recording sessions with a view toward “changing the density of the record.” This is a most satisfying album; a recital which would probably appeal to classical guitar fans as much as to jazz fans. And let’s not forget the fans of acoustic guitar music of any sort. Both the playing and recording are beyond criticism.
– John Sunier