Ralph Towner 12-string and classical guitar, piano, gongs
Recorded April 4 and 5, 1973
Engineers: Kurt Rapp and Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher
This is about as intimate as music gets. Diary features Towner on guitars and piano via overdubs, creating a layered sound that is at once dialectical and univocal. The recording gives Towner vast space in which to work, pushing his reach ever skyward. His guitar lines drip like liquid mercury, beading apart and reforming in continually novel ways. As with much of Towner’s work, Diary gives us a series of pictures, or perhaps even an array of lenses through which to view the same scene from different perspectives or times. “Icarus” is a resplendent duo for 12-string guitar and piano that erupts into a stunning passage of plucked harmonics accompanied by bursts of piano improvisation. Though one of Towner’s most beloved compositions, nowhere else does it sparkle with such effervescence. “Mon Enfant,” a traditional tune and the only non-original in this set, is lovingly arranged for the temperate give of nylon. “Ogden Road” is another 12-string/piano number, the scope and feel of which seem to presage the epic tendencies of Steve Tibbetts. “Erg” is an invigorating piece for two guitars, one of which Towner scrapes, jangles, and taps to furnish a uniquely rhythmic backdrop. As coda we have the lovely “The Silence Of A Candle” for piano alone. Overall, Diary stays true to its subtle convictions. And while more abstract tangents like “Images Unseen” may feel somewhat less realized than other pieces, they never fail to welcome the listener into their frustrations and fears. That being said, an intriguing indifference coheres the album, as if born of the thrill of charting new territory: the explorer’s heart is struck with such awe that all people and circumstances leading up to that moment seem to fade into the most unreachable recesses of memory. Yet once the discovery has been made, all of it comes rushing back. This is precisely what a diary does, turning the past into the present through the act of inscription (recording) so that one can uphold that past later as a tangible object of scrutiny or validation, a log of one’s journey to “getting there.”
As the cover art would imply, this music is two-thirds stratospheric, one-third oceanic, and accordingly played with grace and undulation. Every instrument and sound is the result of careful thought and choice, and the deeply considered arrangements are delectable. The 12-string is a mainstay of Towner’s repertoire, and what he does with the instrument is nothing short of inspiring. Having first discovered Towner through his solo guitar music, I was pleasantly surprised by how suitably well his duly inspired piano riffs complement this album. Towner has everything he needs at his fingertips: a full-fledged percussion section, lead voice, and accompaniment. The one thing missing in his ensemble is you, the listener.