Ralph Towner: My Foolish Heart (ECM 2516)

My Foolish Heart

Ralph Towner
My Foolish Heart

Ralph Towner classical guitar, 12-string guitar
Recorded February 2016, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: February 3, 2017

Any new solo album from Ralph Towner is reason to celebrate. Even more so when you consider the guitarist and ECM veteran was just shy of his 76th birthday at the time of this recording. Not that one would know it by the joie de vivre that infuses even its quietest moments. In the opening “Pilgrim” we find Towner at his quintessential best, gluing a mosaic of disparate scales. There’s a domestic feeling to this piece, as if the occasional strums were the sounds of a straw broom moving across a wooden floor.

Towner’s playing can always be counted on for tactility, unafraid as he is to let details shine through. This is especially true of “I’ll Sing To You,” one of the set’s most melodic tunes, and in which every scrape of calloused fingers is captured in vivid close-up. As a composer, he excels in evoking a title’s movement or feeling. To wit: the sashaying gait of “Saunter” and the Baroque-inspired footwork of “Dolomiti Dance.” Of a kindred spirit are the two tracks featuring 12-string. Where “Clarion Call” is filled with stops and starts, thus working its magic through interruption of a spell, “Biding Time” echoes with reflective purpose.

Both “Shard” and “Rewind” are standbys from the Oregon songbook, and by their inclusion speak to the will of nostalgia. The latter tune ends the album with undulations of narrative. Before that we are treated to “Blue As In Bley.” Dedicated to Paul Bley, who passed away not long before Towner stepped into the studio, it’s a complex and finely wrought piece, which like the improvisations of its dedicatee cohere by magic of immediacy. A smattering of briefer pieces injects the discs of this musical spine with extra fluid. Of these, “Ubi Sunt” is a highlight for its choral beauty.

The title song by Victor Young has long been a source of inspiration for Towner, who revisits it here in humility. In his hands it feels like an old video watched in quiet ponderance. Every scene is a chance at renewal, proof that not only songs but also their interpreters can grow better with age.

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