Jazz Notes: 4 Stars for Guitarist Ralph Towner’s New ECM Solo Album ‘My Foolish Heart’
By Denin Koch, Contributing Writer, April 19, 2017
It’s been more than ten years since guitarist Ralph Towner’s last solo album, but his latest release on ECM, My Foolish Heart, has made the wait worth it. On this album, Towner seeks out the delicate interplay of the individual voices of the instrument, achieving the sound of an orchestra on six strings. At 40 minutes, the album is not for inattentive listeners. To truly appreciate Towner’s genius, one must commit to the journey. However, for those willing, it is a wonderful experience.
While the name of the album suggests a collection of standards, the title track is the only piece here not composed by Towner. The twelve impressionistic sketches are masterfully played, each conjuring up brilliant images. Yet despite Towner’s monstrous tone and technique, the album is a stunningly personal statement. As he explains in the album’s liner notes, the title track holds sentimental value for the guitarist. He describes the impact that the “seminal version by Bill Evans, Scott LeFaro and Paul Motian” has on him. He gives the tune a beautiful reading here. With each track, Towner showcases a different side of his playing, whether it be the rhythmic pulse of a dance, the contrapuntal sensitivity of baroque or the tender touch of a ballad. Never is the album stagnant—even on ballads, Towner’s sense of time keeps the music moving forward.
Solo work is among the most daunting challenges that any guitarist faces, in part for the difficulties of the instrument and in part for the high standard of the solo guitar tradition (see: Joe Pass’s Virtuoso albums). On My Foolish Heart, Towner meets the challenge with ease.
Highlights: “My Foolish Heart,” “Two Poets,” “Blue as in Bley”
Cover: Ralph Towner; photo: ECM