Ralph Towner – My Foolish Heart
(ECM 571 4582. CD review by Peter Bacon)
The solid-gold Great American Songbook tune My Foolish Heart from the pens of Victor Young and Ned Washington is the only tune here not written by the classical and 12-string guitarist, but it’s a crucial one. Towner says the version recorded by Bill Evans with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian “set me on a course to try to attain the magic of this trio in my own attempts”.
Those familiar with the many albums Towner – initially a pianist as well as a guitarist – has made since, both under his own name and with the groups Winter Consort and Oregon, will know that he delivers that magic every time he plays.
This is a gorgeous album of solo guitar, his touch and sound absolutely unmistakeable, whether he is weaving sinuous melodic lines and accompanying harmony on the classical guitar, or ringing out those sonorous, echoing, impressionistic chords from 12 steel strings.
The opener, Pilgrim, has an Elizabethan tinge to its melody and formality, while I’ll Sing To You sounds like it might indeed have lyrics – Towner would sing his song The Silence Of A Candle with the Winter Consort – but it is just as eloquent without them. Saunter precedes the title tune but it sounds as if Bill Evans is already on Towner’s mind, his phrasing and decoration evoking the subtle twists and turns of the pianist.
And the title tune itself is the clear work of a master: it may be highly virtuosic in its execution but there is no self-serving “look at me” aspect to the performance. It’s all about the tune, the harmony, the unheard lyrics, the emotions, the history of the song, the joy of musical creation.
Pieces like Dolomiti Dance and Ubi Sunt are a reminder that Towner has created his own area of guitar music which somehow encompasses European classical guitar music (another piece, Shard, has echoes of Rodrigo or Castelnuovo-Tedesco about it), bluegrass picking, the folk traditions and jazz.
Clarion Call’s harmonics and low strums shows how completely the guitarist masters his sound world – it also accentuates what a beautiful recording engineer Stefano Amerio and producer Manfred Eicher have captured in the Auditorio Stelio Molo concert hall in Lugano.
In the brief liner note Towner also says of My Foolish Heart: “I needed to know how it felt to inhabit such a reverent musical space.” There are such spaces throughout this perfectly paced, thoroughly devotional album.
Towner is an icon to many guitarists. He fills the genre-less niche between the precision of classical music's articulations blended with the disciplined freedom of improvisation. A rare pianistic approach to the guitar that finds its voice in the classical Spanish guitar- employing it as an instrument of a true composer.