Each recording appears to offer a career résumé to date, while also introducing new elements and developments in Towner’s music, and this new recording follows in this tradition.
ECM 2758 / 486 1035
Ralph Towner (classical guitar)
Recorded February 2022
Ralph Towner’s journey of discovery with his run of solo guitar albums that began with Diary in 1973 continues fifty years on with At First Light, and following this journey can be an extremely rewarding experience for the listener.
One of only a few artists who have recorded all their solo output for ECM, Towner’s discography for the imprint is as extensive as it is expansive. The guitarist, always ready to embrace new musical avenues has appeared on some seminal albums that are timeless masterpieces. This can also be said of his own recordings and especially the solo albums. Each appears to offer a career résumé to date, while also introducing new elements and developments in Towner’s music, and this new recording follows in this tradition.
As previously, Towner programs his solo albums with predominantly original compositions along with a standard or popular tune that gives an air of overall familiarity. In fact, the guitarist has processed his influences and refined his musical language to such a fine degree that often the new pieces will feel familiar too.
How he has managed to produce fresh and exciting music over a career of more than fifty years is a staggering achievement, and testament to Towner’s desire to continue to grow as an artist. His readings of ‘Make Someone Happy’ by Jule Styne and Hoagy Carmichael and Stan Adams’ ‘Little Old Lady’ are masterpieces of invention and understatement while the original tunes grow organically out of Towner’s towering past work yet seeking something new in the process.
Improvisation has always been a key ingredient in the guitarist’s music, and it is impossible to determine where formal composition ends, and improvisation becomes part of the process. With ECMs recording strategy of a day or two to record an album, and Towner acknowledges this process of very few takes requires total concentration, focus and spontaneity that ensures the music is never static but forever changing in the moment of creation.
Of his own compositions Towner revisits ‘Guitarra Picante’ that was a staple piece in the Oregon book, in which the guitarist stretches out with a stunning improvisation with the piece almost driving itself along. The opening ‘Flow’ does so at a very stately pace, each note made to count accompanied by some gorgeous rhythmic motifs; and the closing ‘Empty Stage’ leaves the listener pondering what has gone before in this outstanding addition to Towner’s discography.
Reviewed by Nick Lea