on life, music etc beyond mainstream

2018 24 Jan

Time Lines – The solo guitar albums

von: Michael Engelbrecht Filed under: Blog | TB | 4 Comments

Diary, 1973
Solo Concert, 1979 
Blue Sun, 1982
Ana, 1992
Anthem, 2000

Time Line, 2005
My Foolish Heart, 2017
At First Light, 2023 (Feb. 17th)



Five decades flying by. I was still a teenager when I fell in love with „Diary“. Einmal, als ich Towner für ein 45-Minuten-Porträt interviewte, ging der Blick weit zurück zu der Gruppe Oregon, zur Magie der frühen Jahre. Wir kamen natürlich auch zu „Dis“, seiner Zusammenarbeit mit Jan Garbarek (für solche Aufnahmen wurde der Begriff „Sternstunde“ erfunden) und schliesslich zu „Solstice“ – an seiner Seite Jan Garbarek, Eberhard Weber, Jon Christensen. Er lächelte und konnte sich beim besten Willen nur zusammenreimen, wie dieses Werk so unmittelbar entstanden war. Ein Spielrausch, reine Entfesselung? Seine Soloplatten sind eine Welt für sich, voller Verdichtungen, und doch transprent. Es ist Winter, es ist bald wieder so weit. Quiet music of highest order! Ralph Towner’s compositions are hold-your-breath stunning. The creative well never seems to run dry. Noch eine diskrete Beobachtung: Sologitarrenalben berühmter Saitenkünstler werden gerne so präsentiert, dass der jeweilige Maestro auf dem Cover abgebildet ist, oftmals in voller Aktion. Hier ist es das erste Mal überhaupt, dass Towner zu sehen ist auf einem Cover seiner Solowerke für Gitarre, ein Schwarzweissfoto – eher Versenkung suggerierend als grosse Gesten.


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  1. Henning Bolte:

    If you are lucky enough to experience this guitarist live, the astonishment about the abundance and the richness of colors of his sound on the acoustic instrument should be extraordinary and should let you forget within minutes the bravura of electrified sound. Towner’s wealthy guitar playing has something rather complete in itself. For him the solo recording revealed as a primary form of playing to be developed consistently through the years. His first solo album, “Diary”, dates from 1974 and his last one, “Timeline”, from 2006. Actually his first recorded solo pieces date from his 1972 recording with Glen Moore, Paul McCandless and Colin Walcott for ECM. On “Diary “Towner is still overdubbing himself but from then the combination of liners and layers continued on just one acoustic guitar. His six solo recordings since the mid seventies show a unique growing integration of complexity terminating in masterful economy of suggestive abbreviation in the music of his newest album.


  2. Michael Engelbrecht:

    „…a masterpiece of interplay in one hand.“

    Good one 😉

  3. Brian Whistler:

    I too love Ralph’s solo albums, both pure solo guitar and the albums with overdubs such as Diary and Blue Sun. But now that oregon is no longer, it makes sense that he has focused on solo guitar. His sound is so singular that with one or two notes, we know who the player is.

    Ralph occupies a niche that no other artist can share. The highwire act of continually inventing new pieces that sound a bit like modern classical guitar yet have that unmistakable Towner watermark, then having the boldness to performing them solo including improvising over the changes, like a trapeze artist without a net- there is simply no other artist on planet earth who can successfully pull these feats off nightly. Add to that the fact that Towner is now 82 and it’s even more astounding.

    While Ralph has always had a decent technique, he has never been afraid to try things rather than being content with playing it safe. (Incidentally, his classical guitar teacher in Spain once told him, starting so late in life as he did, that he would never cut it as a pro classical guitarist – and thank God – he is so much more than that!) This gives his performances an edge, as rather than focusing on playing perfectly clean, Towner chooses to go after what he hears. That being said, over the years I’ve noticed his technique has become more refined compared to his earlier recordings – it is clear he still prefers to bow to the spirit of musical truth as opposed to playing it safe and going for time tested formulas in the service of “perfection.”

    There are a number of classical guitarists covering Towner’s compositions these days. Most just play the written music. Few dare to improvise over the forms. In the tradition of early music, Towner’s approach is a continuum that blurs the line between between the written piece and extemporization. Among many other things, this is what I love about Towner.

  4. Michael Engelbrecht:


    Our next time travel column in March will be dedicated to Ralph Towner‘s solo guitar albums (incl. those with overdubs:)) – a collage of some of our texts here ….

    And of course, the forthcoming from Feb 17, will play its part.

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