Ralph Towner and Gary Peacock: A Closer View (ECM 1602)

A Closer View

Ralph Towner classical and 12-string guitars
Gary Peacock double-bass
Recorded December 1995 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

If Oracle, the first ECM strictly duo collaboration between bassist Gary Peacock and guitarist Ralph Towner, was Mt. Kilimanjaro, this is Everest. Stepping out of the intimate cave of the former, these uncompromising sages wrap their oracular magic around a set of 12 (mostly) new tunes. Whereas before Peacock’s compositions were in prominence, now they recede in the relief of Towner’s, each a pebble of the larger whole. The sole exception is “Moor,” which cameos after its early appearance on Paul Bley with Gary Peacock. From that session it retains its drama, and like “Infrared” stretches the envelope to 16 strings. Yet for the most part the alchemy is introspectively, if robustly, adorned. In “Opalesque” we can’t help but take to the fluidity of Peacock’s abilities like a diver to the sea. It is an instinctive conversion, one that matches Towner depth for depth. “Viewpoint” is the shortest of these stories, and holds a magnifying glass to the trail of clues left by “Mingusiana.” A subtle and crawling allusion, it skates across decades of experience to serve us the past as if it were the present. The freer considerations of “Postcard To Salta” are notable for the percussive qualities they bring out in Towner’s playing against a solo from Peacock that flows like poetry. The bassist glows also in the hearth of “Beppo,” but not before the expository “Toledo” flows from Towner’s classical. This solo masterpiece is worth the album alone, and gives due relativity to the genetic mysteries of “Amber Captive” and the title track, which like a muslin curtain filters light with a crosshatching of nostalgic stains and scents: the very stuff of life.

This aching album moves on without us, bearing its pulse in the bones. It is a lift of the head in sunrise, a touch of the lips to forehead, a misty star shining through to the end of every dream. The drop may look far, but in such fatherly hands we know a single step will traverse it.

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