All About Jazz

Home » Articles » CD/LP/Track Review

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

326

Ralph Towner: Time Line

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
Few artists have made the art of solo performance a significant part of their body of work. If a pianist is around long enough, you can expect the occasional solo recording. But except for Keith Jarrett, few pianists have made solo performance a fundamental part of their discography. The same applies to the guitar, where Ralph Towner is another obvious exception. While Towner's 35-year affiliation with Oregon gives him an outstanding ensemble with which to explore group interaction, the majority of his discography as a leader has been about the intimacy of the duo and the insulated world of the solo. So it's no surprise that his first disc since Anthem (ECM, 2001) is another solo effort, with an emphasis on classical guitar.

In contrast to Jarrett's way of pulling something out of thin air, Towner's approach is more purposefully compositional. In an interview a few years ago, Towner spoke of viewing the guitar as a mini-orchestra. Bringing a piece to Oregon becomes a matter of deconstructing the score and reassigning specific parts. "If," a lyrical 5/4 piece that was also the opening track on Oregon's Prime (Cam Jazz, 2005), is a perfect example. Listening to the two versions, one can hear how Towner's fluid solo performance could be easily broken out for woodwind, bass and percussion. But Towner's ability to improvise while retaining the forward motion of a song's form has never been stronger.

Towner's more considered approach may contrast with Jarrett's stream-of-consciousness style, but he's equally capable of impromptu improvisation that sounds fully intentioned. Not only do the miniatures of the spontaneously created "Five Glimpses"—ranging from 25 seconds to just over a minute—function as distinct entities, but producer Manfred Eicher's sequencing creates a four-minute mini-suite which sounds as if it was planned that way all along.

Towner's also a masterful self-editor, never letting a song overstay its welcome—and he's an expert at working in and out of time. The dark theme of "The Pendant" is in waltz time, but when Towner begins to improvise, the time dissolves—yet, uncannily, the form is never lost. On the brief but abstruse "Oleander Etude," which centers on a rapid-fire series of arpeggios, Towner's interpretive sense of time creates a subtle tension and release. The equally esoteric "Freeze Frame," one of only two tracks featuring Towner on twelve-string guitar, is episodic but retains an inner logic.

Two standards—"Come Rain or Come Shine" and "My Man's Gone Now"—were often covered by Bill Evans, an early influence on Towner. Just as Evans' dense harmonies could transform these tunes into deeply personal vehicles, Towner's unique voicings—far removed from conventional jazz harmonies—lend his interpretations distinct independence.

Time Line could be viewed as just another Towner solo album, and it's true there are no major leaps here. But at this point Towner has transcended definitive statements, and each new album he make is instead part of a honing process that still manages to introduce new and unpredictable elements to his distinct and evolving sound.


Track Listing: The Pendant; Oleander Etude; Always By Your Side; The Hollows; Anniversary Song; If; Five Glimpses (I, II, III, IV, V); The Lizards Of Eraclea; Turning Of The Leaves; Come Rain Or Come Shine; Freeze Frame; My Man

Personnel: Ralph Towner: guitar.

Title: Time Line | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: ECM Records

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Dreams And Other Stories CD/LP/Track Review
Dreams And Other Stories
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: September 22, 2018
Read The Nook CD/LP/Track Review
The Nook
by Geno Thackara
Published: September 22, 2018
Read Julius Eastman - Piano Interpretations CD/LP/Track Review
Julius Eastman - Piano Interpretations
by Troy Dostert
Published: September 22, 2018
Read Moments Before CD/LP/Track Review
Moments Before
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: September 22, 2018
Read From The Vault: No Security, San Jose '99 (2CD + SD Blu Ray) CD/LP/Track Review
From The Vault: No Security, San Jose '99 (2CD + SD...
by John Kelman
Published: September 22, 2018
Read with whom you can be who you are CD/LP/Track Review
with whom you can be who you are
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: September 21, 2018
Read "Whatever Possessed Me" CD/LP/Track Review Whatever Possessed Me
by Don Phipps
Published: April 22, 2018
Read "Geometry of Caves" CD/LP/Track Review Geometry of Caves
by Troy Dostert
Published: July 16, 2018
Read "There And Here" CD/LP/Track Review There And Here
by Anya Wassenberg
Published: July 26, 2018
Read "Sun Sparkle" CD/LP/Track Review Sun Sparkle
by Gareth Thompson
Published: May 29, 2018
Read "Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns" CD/LP/Track Review Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: December 16, 2017
Read "Solo" CD/LP/Track Review Solo
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: January 13, 2018