At First Light

At First Light

Even into his eighties, acoustic guitarist Ralph Towner continues an inspired series of wholly unaccompanied albums for ECM, something begun in 1980 with Solo Concert and accruing through the years with Ana, Anthem, Time Line, and My Foolish Heart. Sticking with well-established practice, he makes At First Light as much a platform for his writing as his playing—all tracks are Towner originals save for the old Jimmy Durante feature “Make Someone Happy,” the traditional “Danny Boy,” and the swinging take on Hoagy Carmichael’s “Little Old Lady” (which John Coltrane recorded in his Atlantic days). One notable difference, however: Towner has set aside the 12-string guitar, a vital part of his sound from the beginning, but hard to travel with and hard to maintain. The cascading steel-string timbre of that instrument is missed, but Towner’s poetic expression and harmonic mastery on nylon-string classical guitar have never sounded deeper and more seasoned. The singing tone, the confident balance of high and low registers, the sense of space in even the densest passages, the flexible rhythm, and pianistic counterpoint (Towner is a fine pianist as well): These elements all find concord in one of Towner’s most satisfying solo efforts.

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