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Ralph Towner - At First Light (2023) [Modern Creative, Contemporary Jazz]; FLAC (tracks+.cue)

Chamber Jazz, Improvised Music, Avant-Garde Crossover
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Mike1985
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Ralph Towner - At First Light (2023) [Modern Creative, Contemporary Jazz]; FLAC (tracks+.cue)

Unread postby Mike1985 » 08 Nov 2023, 09:29


Artist: Ralph Towner
Album: At First Light
Genre: Modern Creative, Contemporary Jazz
Label: ECM Records
Released: 2023
Quality: FLAC (tracks+.cue)
Tracklist:
  1. Flow (Towner) - 5:06
  2. Strait (Towner) - 4:56
  3. Make Someone Happy (Styne-Comden-Green) - 3:53
  4. Ubi Sunt (Towner) - 4:47
  5. Guitarra Picante (Towner) - 4:25
  6. At First Light (Towner) - 4:45
  7. Danny Boy (Trad.) - 3:41
  8. Fat Foot (Towner) - 3:58
  9. Argentinian Nights (Towner) - 1:42
  10. Little Old Lady (Adams-Carmichael) - 3:18
  11. Empty Stage (Towner) - 3:42

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The creative working relationship between guitarist Ralph Towner and producer/ECM boss Manfred Eicher is 50 years old. Diary, Towner's first solo album, was recorded in 1973. Though he has recorded with other labels, ECM has been his home since the beginning. At First Light is the guitarist's first release since 2017's wonderful My Foolish Heart. He only plays a nylon-string classical instrument here; his 12-string, piano, and Prophet-5 have been sent to their rooms. His music, whether original compositions or canny covers, is influential. In 2021, Italian guitar master Adriano Sebastiani issued Ralph Towner: Music for Solo Guitar on Brilliant Classics.

The 11 tracks on At First Light offer eight originals, two readings of Broadway songs, and Towner's interpretation of "Danny Boy." At 83, his playing remains at a pinnacle. A conservatory-trained pianist, he treats the nylon-string instrument like a keyboard, offering crystalline chord voicings amid punchy bass notes and poignant single-string runs and counterpoint. The suite-like opener, "Flow," juxtaposes the pastoral with the improvisational as Towner "explores" jazz. "Strait" seamlessly bridges post-bop with classical, as arpeggios bite and turn amid extrapolated harmonic chords. "Ubi Sunt" moves from shadow to light and back with its bittersweet melody creating a sense of reverie before giving way to an open exploration in the middle section, and framed by the anchoring pulse of a bass note. "Guitarra Piccante" was originally recorded with Oregon for 1991's Always, Never, And Forever. Jaunty and rhythmic, its lithe melody is nearly hummable as Towner transforms jump blues into captivating swing. "Fat Foot" is meaty; its rhythmic mid-register vamp is framed in spacious syncopation and is almost funky. Jule Styne's "Make Someone Happy" is from Do Re Mi (Towner's influence Bill Evans liked to play the tune as well). Its melody is indelible, even as Towner changes tempos. The song is reflective until the bridge, when the guitarist cuts loose with flurries of single-string runs, bassy counterpoint, and luscious, expansive harmonic chords as he evolves the tune into a work of exploratory jazz, complete with lush high notes that caress its movement. Hoagy Carmichael's "Little Old Lady" (from The Show Is On) is also a delight. Its infectious swing stacks bass notes directly alongside the melody, as Towner swings the chords hard, buoying them. Closer "Empty Stage" is poignant and athletic. He offers a dialogue of queries and answers between the instrument's lower, middle, and upper strings, then executes them in the lower or middle registers. He investigates the harmonic links between timbres and chromatics, as syncopated rhythmic ideas drawn from flamenco, blues, fado, and the classical tradition underscore them. At First Light is at once meditative and intimate. It is, as usual, intricately played, offering listeners a statement that is equal parts soulful reflection and masterful, swinging precision.
Review by Thom Jurek

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