Ralph Towner/Gary Burton: Matchbook (ECM 1056)

 

Ralph Towner
Gary Burton
Matchbook

Ralph Towner 12-string and classical guitars
Gary Burton vibraharp
Recorded July 26/27, 1974 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

A matchbook doesn’t typically provide a surface for lasting statements. On its flap, one scrawls a phone number, an address, or any other piece of information as ephemeral as the flames for which it is mass-produced. Such is not the case with guitarist Ralph Towner and vibraphonist Gary Burton. Instead, we get indelible marks of grace and humility, each a brighter spark at the wick of our attention.

Towner originals form the bulk of this project, of which the opening “Drifting Petals” is a quintessentially evocative example. Between his 12-string and Burton’s plaintive returns, we get an emotive handful of light poured directly into our ears. This combination recurs in an intimately redacted version of “Icarus,” which paves new avenues of understanding through one of Towner’s most popular compositions. Burton’s touch adds a metallic fervor that contrasts well with the softer piano version on the previous year’s seminal Diary. Twelve strings of bliss continue in “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” In this delicate, dark arrangement, Mingus’s classic tune wilts into a devastating ending.

The album’s remainder gives us Towner in a more classical mode, thereby halving the number of strings at his disposal, but with no loss of distance. “Some Other Time” builds an enchanting synchronicity, throughout which both instruments connect and drift apart like memories and expectations. Burton’s plush chords give Towner’s fingers plenty of forgiving terrain. The two switch roles, as they often do, for their respective solos. “Song For A Friend” is a bleaker piece wrapped around a gentle persuasion. As an affirmation of beauty, it is sometimes painful, shaded by the same colors with which all relationships are rendered. Towner draws the album’s most endearing solo here across an ideal tidal accompaniment. A notable highlight is Towner’s buzzed introduction of the title track, achieved by weaving a matchbook into the strings of his guitar. This sets off a flurry of whimsical activity and attentive soloing, meshing in a tightly knit cloth that leaves no dangling thread.

Three instrumental angles converge in the triangular “Aurora”: classical and 12-string guitars occupy the left and right channels, while vibes bond them with living energy and song. In addition, Towner and Burton are each given their own moments in two brief, but beautiful, tracks. “Brotherhood” is a haunting piece by Burton alone, its musical nether regions fluttering in anticipation of the higher notes dropping into its dark pool, while “1×6” is a classical guitar solo that ends before it begins.

The sound of this album is like no other and unfolds itself with the delicacy of a morning glory, yet with melodies as indestructible as the sunlight that sustains them. Its many colors are provided not only through finely wrought melodies, but also through a wealth of rhythmic variations throughout. If you like either of these artists apart, then you can’t go wrong with them together.

2 thoughts on “Ralph Towner/Gary Burton: Matchbook (ECM 1056)

    1. This was a new listen for me when reviewing it, and a supremely satisfying one at that. Having only a vinyl pressing at my disposal, the experience was enhanced all the more. Like many of ECM’s best, this one makes me feel nostalgia for a time when I had yet to be born.

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