Ralph Towner: Open Letter (ECM 1462)

Ralph Towner
Open Letter

Ralph Towner classical and 12-string guitars, synthesizer
Peter Erskine drums
Recorded July 1991 and February 1992 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

It might be tempting to dismiss this Ralph Towner effort as New Age fluff, but the music is so gorgeous that any such considerations fall to the wayside. Yet the wayside is precisely where Towner sets his sights, which is to say that his interest lies in edges where musical idioms meet. He explores these lines, not unlike the blotted cover, with an ease of diction at the fret board that is recognizable and comforting. Drummer Peter Erskine shares the bill, but Towner adds a few synth touches for broader effect, as in “The Sigh,” which opens the session in a cleft of fluid energy.

There are two sides to this album. One is resplendent, exemplified in the congregation of 12-string and cymbals that is “Adrift.” This resonant vessel shares waters with “Magic Pouch” and “Alar” (a tympani-infused concoction that is one of Towner’s finest), both of which blossom in a tropical climate and funnel their tide-swept secrets into “Magniola Island.” Any possible tourist traps therein are elided by Towner’s ever-imaginative picking.

The other side comes through Towner’s solos. The jazzy riffs of “Short’n Stout” pair well with the intimate geographies of “Waltz For Debby,” while the blissful “I Fall In Love Too Easily” lobs us into the goodness of “Nightfall.”

Towner is as astute as ever in his execution. Whether it’s a standard or his own musical vision, we get the feeling that everything he plays is an open letter.

<< Edward Vesala/Sound & Fury: Invisible Storm (ECM 1461)
>> John Surman: Adventure Playground (ECM 1463)

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