Ralph Towner ‘My Foolish Heart’ (ECM) 5/5

One of the longest serving musicians on the ECM label, who has performed with the likes of Jan Garbarek, and others as well as with Oregon, Ralph Towner returns with a solo guitar project that has a quasi-live feel to the sound, yet still retains a wonderful intimacy. The project has as an underlying theme a warm tribute to the late great pianist Bill Evans, but is really a pretext for Towner to display his own dazzling virtuosity in a variety of musical settings and this he succeeds in accomplishing with aplomb. A folk feel is discernible on the opener, ‘Pilgrim’, and throughout the album, Towner delights in exploring the roots of different musical traditions, and on several pieces one can almost hear the nylon string guitar played flamenco style and there is both a finesse to and a freshness in the performances that is totally absorbing to the listener.
Towner was, as a then young pianist back in the 1960s, heavily influenced by the Bill Evans trio and their masterful interpretation of, ‘My foolish heart’, and hearing that reading had a major impact upon him. Thereafter, the twelve sting classical guitar became Ralph Towner’s main instrument of choice and is in fact the only non-original performed on this occasion. On ‘Dolomiti dance’, he seemingly goes back in time to the Elizabethan era and, perhaps, the music of John Dowland and approaches the music with great subtlety. Classical influences are not absent, especially on, ‘I’ll sing to you’, which could just as easily have been played by John Williams. There is fine comping from Towner on the pressing, ‘Saunter’, which at barely over the five minute mark is still the longest piece on the entire album while the guitarist’s dexterity is on show on, ‘Clarion call’, with fine interplay between his own hands. An exemplary ECM recording from a label that is enjoying renewed vitality. Ralph Towner is at his absolute best here.

Tim Stenhouse