Saturday, June 22, 2013

Ralph Towner – Solstice – Sound and Shadows

   Ralph Towner is one of most characteristic and most versatile and creative musicians. Trained as classical pianist, composer and multi-instrumentalist, he is recognized mainly as guitarist in jazz, fusion, world music, crossover and third stream with more than 50 albums signed with his name or with the name of Oregon jazz group. From his very beginnings he was strongly connected with world music ideas and he made his first creative steps in 1960’s in famous Paul Winter Consort. With three friends of this ensemble, bassist Glen Moore, Paul McCandless playing whole variety of woodwind instruments and Collin Walcott playing table, sitar and percussion instruments, in 1971 Ralph Towner formed quartet Oregon joining jazz with world music.
   As jazz guitar player Ralph Towner created his own style, which is very modern but still readable, intuitive and recognizable. He is playing unplugged in classical way and nylon strings giving his music softness and chamber qualities. For this sound he is sometimes qualified as chamber jazz performer. All Ralph Towner’s albums were recorded for ECM what is significant choice. Of course there are serious stylistic reasons he recorded for Manfred Eicher’s label. And from the other hand some elements of Towner’s style became one of pillars of the ECM sound.

Ralph Towner – Solstice / Sound and Shadows (1977)

   Sixth Ralph Towner’s album, Solstice / Sound and Shadows was recorded in February 1977 at Talent Studio in Oslo. Personnel of this album were the same musicians who were featured on Solstice album recorded two years earlier in December 1974. Members of the quartet were Ralph Towner was playing 12-string and classical guitars, piano and French horn, Jan Garbarek soprano and tenor saxophones and flute, Eberhard Weber was playing bass and cello and Jon Christensen was playing drums. This quartet, sometimes called Solstice can be contemplated as a kind of alternative version for Oregon formula. With all differences and full spectrum of quartet possibilities and individual qualities of four artists it is different implementation of the idea. Perfect cooperation with drummer gave this album drive and intensity showing “between the lines” as equilibrium between change and persistence.
   The music recorded on second Solstice album is more abstractive, and more intellectual. And it’s worth to notice these recordings are only Towner’s albums with Jan Garbarek and Eberhard Weber. Wide open space of meaningful silence between sounds and shapes is almost visible in opening piece Distant Hills which was dedicated in the memory of great choreographer and dancer Charles Weidman. Died in 1975, he was pioneering modern dance in America. Garbarek playing tenor saxophone with clear, natural sound is still in his early, expressive phase. Soprano sax parts and flute in Song of the Shadows are clearer and almost classic in purity of the sound. It was also perfect moment for Eberhard Weber. Four extremely creative artists with the leader who built this album so much visionary power, there was no place for anything more on one of most minimalistic covers in ECM’s catalogue. On five-star scale this album is in vicinity of four and half constellations.

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