Ralph Towner’s Solstice: Sound And Shadows (ECM 1095)

Ralph Towner’s Solstice
Sound and Shadows

Ralph Towner 12-string and classical guitars, piano, French horn
Jan Garbarek soprano and tenor saxophones, flute
Eberhard Weber bass, cello
Jon Christensen drums
Recorded February 1977 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

If Ralph Towner’s classic Solstice was an overland journey, then Sound And Shadows is a subterranean dream. Featuring the same lineup as its predecessor—Jan Garbarek on saxophones, Eberhard Weber on bass and cello, Jon Christensen on drums, and Towner himself behind an arsenal of instruments—the results are perhaps not as focused. Then again, they don’t need to be.

Amid the spacious 12-string considerations of “Distant Hills,” we cannot help but feel a rich and complex topography curling into slumber above our heads. Weber’s electronic touches here deepen what is already clothed in darkness. The tighter “Balance Beam” is, like its titular object, steady and reassuring yet something to which one must pay respect if one is to navigate it successfully. Garbarek’s sopranic accents teeter across it, bringing with them the idea of light where there can be none. “Along The Way” is a collection of invisible snapshots animated by the life force of the musical gesture. Towner reprises his deft pianism in “Arion.” Caressed by the fluid unity of Christensen and Weber, he unhinges unspoken memories into the soil. “Song Of The Shadows” ends the album in a blend of classical guitar and flute over receding strings.

Along with Garbarek’s open splendor and admirable restraint, Weber’s snake-like pedal points comprise the ideal complement to Towner’s pinpoint metallic precision. Christensen’s cymbal work glistens as ever, proving that rhythm can be just as effective in a whisper. This is an album of sensations without images, one that reminds us that in order to have light, we must have umbrage, and this it brings in great quantity.

4 thoughts on “Ralph Towner’s Solstice: Sound And Shadows (ECM 1095)

  1. I actually blame my ECM music addiction on this very LP. Along with Witchi Tai To and Abercrombie Quartet (ECM 1164…why do I remember the numbers? creepy!)…..this was the first of my non-Metheny ECM purchases. It had me at Distant Hills – and still does, it being one of my desert island songs. There are three great solos – by Towner, then Weber, then a searing, soaring Garbarek turn that breaks your heart. I love the entire album, but it is Distant Hills that I will always return to.

  2. I never understood why this album is regularly referred to as Solstice / Sound & Shadows – Solstice is the name of Towner’s band on this record, not part of the title. It’s an odd little misinterpretation which I’ve seen in plenty of places, actually!

    Titling aside, this is another tremendous album by an incredible lineup. Towner and Weber on the same record is always a winner, and I think I might like this record as much as its predecessor. It feels a touch more restrained in places, maybe, but the beautiful melodic work is perfect throughout.

    1. Thanks for the catch! I always assumed that “Solstice” was part of the title because of the front cover’s typography, which has “Solstice” and “Sound And Shadows” printed in the same font and color. I took it to be a titular homage to the first Solstice album. At any rate, I’ve made the correction 🙂

  3. Yes, I can see that now you mention it. I was a bit confused about how it was titled after seeing conflicting versions online, but the official ECM site cleared it up for me pretty quickly! I suppose had Solstice recorded a third album it would all have been much clearer, but sadly we’d never get more output from this wonderful quartet.

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