by Karl Nehring
Towner: Flow; Strait; Jule Styne, Betty Comden, Adolph Green: Make Someone Happy; Towner: Ubi Sunt; Guitarra Picante; At First Light; (Traditional): Danny Boy; Towner: Fat Foot; Argentinian Nights; Stanley Adams, Hoagy Carmichael: Little Old Lady; Towner: Empty Stage. Ralph Towner, classical guitar. ECM 2758 486 1035
Long-time music fans may remember American guitarist Ralph Towner (b. 1940) from his long association with the band Oregon, a group that Towner co-founded back in 1970. Oregon went on to release a number of albums on the Vanguard, Elektra, ECM, and Intuition labels over the years. (The Oregon album Out of the Woods from 1978 is especially well worth seeking out; it is an acoustic and musical wonder.) In his liner notes for At First Light, a solo guitar outing, Towner writes about how unique it is to have most of his own having most of his own life’s work represented on one record label. He’s been an ECM artist for more than fifty years, appearing in many different contexts, one of the most important being a run of solo recordings that began with Diary in 1973, and now 50 hears later, At First Light is the newest addition to his series of solo guitar releases. “My solo recordings,” writes Towner, “have always included my own compositions in which there are trace elements of the composers and musicians that have attracted me over the years. Musicians such as George Gershwin, John Coltrane, John Dowland, Bill Evans, to name a few. The blend of keyboard and guitar techniques is an important aspect of my playing and composition, and I feel that this album is a good example of shaping this expanse of influences into my personal music.”
A fellow guitarist, Scott Nygaard, has observed of Towner that “No one else plays guitar like Ralph Towner. And while his compositions often sound ‘classical’ (combining a fondness for baroque voice leading, Stravinskian harmonies, and odd time signatures with his own strong sense of melody) that’s primarily because each piece grows organically and gracefully from an initial idea.” Listeners can get additional insight into the both the guitarist and the music on the album from this video in which Towner recounts some of the details of his musical education and how he approaches composition and recording, focusing briefly on the album’s title composition, At First Light.