Monday, November 14, 2005

ECM Part 1; Ralph Towner

ECM Records
ECM 823268-1
Released 1984; recorded 1975-1983

Side One

1. Oceanus (1975)
2. Blue Sun (1983)
3. New Moon (1979)

Side Two

1. Beneath An Evening Sky (1979)
2. The Prince and the Sage (1983)
3. Nimbus (1975)

It’s about time I started writing about some of my ECM records. Right now I’m listening to Ralph Towner’s “Works” LP (well, a CD copy of that LP, recorded from the original vinyl using my mac). The incredible thing is how good it sounds. The production values on those records were so high. Even though it was recorded in 1975 (and probably in analogue, or so I should think), and then played back on my suspect record deck, the sound is fantastic. Rich and warm, with some lovely detail – the individual notes picked out on Ralph’s guitar right at the beginning of the opening ‘Oceanus’ being a prime example. So good does it sound that it actually stopped me in my tracks when i first listened to it on CD. I was walking across the lounge to sit down and... 'barrarrabum'. Had to go straight back and put it on again.

That track, and the closing ‘Nimbus’ are both from the same 1975 session featuring Jan Garbarek on saxophone. That period was a great time for European jazz, and these two tracks are no exception. Momentum is kept up by the insistent pattern of the cymbals, while a great deal of free playing goes on up top. Free acoustic guitar? Sounds like it should be a recipe for diaster, but it works beautifully.

The meditative mood is enhanced by the inclusion of two tracks from a 1980’s session featuring Ralph on his own, accompanied only by some synths (which he plays). It’s a great chance to hear his guitar playing close up. There's not an enormous amount of variety on this album - the mood doesn't really change much throughout; but if quiet and slightly free jazz (a compliment!) is your thing, then you can do worse than start here.

There's an interesting biography of Ralph on this site. He also has his own official website with details of his many recordings.

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