|Ralph Towner. Barbican, February 2014
Photo Credit Roger Thomas. All Rights Reserved
(Barbican Hall, 27th February 2014. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
There has been, there is, and there will remain an ECM effect. An evening in the 1,850-capacity Barbican Hall dedicated to two solo instrumentalists was certainly helped to become viable by the fact that both of the players have found their long-term home on Manfred Eicher’s label.
But it’s not just about economics, or about the benefits which loyalty and long-term marketing support from a record label can bring. ECM is also an aesthetic, a way of teaching us to listen. No, not as in the in-joke that the Manfred Eicher mix of John Cage’s 4’33” is 4’38” (groan), this is serious: over time he has worked a miracle to shift expectations, to bring listeners to accept and treasure the intimate, the stripped-down, the personal as a fulfilling way of experiencing music.
The two ECM artists Ralph Towner and Egberto Gismonti, who occupied the Barbican stage, alone, for half a concert each, last night, formed a contrasting pair. Their musical origins are very different, and after substantial careers – Towner is 73, Gismonti 66 – each of their musical presences is individual and strong.
Towner played first. His way is allusive understated, he often suggest notes and phrases, they exist in the half-light. Some tunes are allowed to linger. Others -the standard Stomping at the Savoy, for example – seem to say what they have to say, and leave the stage. Towner gives tunes character, pesonality, wholeness and uniqueness. I last heard him, and remember being very moved by his playing of the tune Anthem in an ancient building. He played it again tonight as encore. Then, as tonight, I could have happily listened to a second Ralph Towner set straight away.
Egberto Gismonti is more percussive, more obviously virtuosic. The Brazilian heritage is clear, but my ears – particularly when he moved to the piano – kept picking up echoes different sound-worlds, such as the remorseless perpetuum mobile of, say, Georges Antheil’s Ballet Mecanique. I had reservations; Gismonti’s performance was cheered to the echo.
The solo recital, as heard last night – without the distracton of loops , multi tracking or FX – is a demanding form; its advantage is that nothing gets in the way of music, which emerges from silence. The performers have nowhere to hide. There is an immediacy, honesty and integrity about the whole enterprise.
Admittedly, it’s not acoustic sound, but tonight the engineers – to my ears – did a very good job of getting close to the natural sound, while having it emerge from large speakers.
The concert made me think forwards that another ECM guitarist John Abercrombie – is making a rare appearance in London soon.