Thursday, December 28, 2017
Ralph Towner - 1975  "Solstice"
This is arguably the first recording to fully flesh out the aural expanse for which ECM has come to be known. Although I am well aware of the immense groundswell of musical activity that was the 1970s, certainly an album like this was a refreshing and altogether mind-altering experience for those fortunate enough to be young musical explorers at the time. Featuring a lineup of musicians who would go on to weave ECM’s significance into the fabric of time, Solstice is a tour de force of musicianship, writing, arrangement, and recording.
Each track is brimming with life and features the sensitive application of a variety of instrumental combinations and studio savvy. “Oceanus” showcases Garbarek in his prime, soaring with an unbridled emotional register. As always, Towner’s 12-string speaks in 360 degrees. Superb drumming from Christensen complements lush melodic lines from Weber, who stretches a melodic cello into infinity while his bass arises like the conical aftereffect of a water droplet. “Visitation” clouds this ardor in a nocturnal vision filled with laughing spirits. “Drifting Petals” is a slow progression, a timid look out onto a dusty plain where the promise of freedom looms larger than the possibility of danger. But then an elder’s advice rings in our ears and pushes us onward. Feet move of their volition and pull us into the ever-receding horizon as the first drops of a squall streak across our foreheads. Towner proves again that his piano musings are not to be taken lightly, as they make for one of the most evocative tracks on the album. A transcendental 12-string solo (with gentle dimensional support from Weber) opens “Nimbus,” soon blossoming into a flourish of flutes, drums, and a bowed bass that cries with the grating fluidity of a sarangi. Garbarek’s sax joins in the fray and lets loose its harmonious fire. The deftly overdubbed flutes return, spreading their wings for a few moments before fluttering off into the distance. “Winter Solstice,” “Piscean Dance,” and “Red and Black” comprise a triptych of duets: the first for classical guitar and sax, the second a prime jam for 12-string and drums, and the third for 12-string and bass. “Sand” ends our cosmic journey with one of Garbarek’s deepest meditations for sax set to the strangely compelling ululations of Christensen’s flexatone lolling about in the background.
Melodically robust while structurally yielding, this is an album to be treasured and is a must-listen for anyone desiring to know what ECM is all about. An astounding meeting of musical minds if there ever was one.
When Ralph Towner burst onto the contemporary jazz scene in the mid-70s, listeners were well aware of his awesome talent as a member of Oregon. But when Solstice was issued on the ECM label, it took the brilliant guitarist's caché to a much higher level, especially as a composer. With the otherworldly curved soprano sax and flute playing of Jan Garbarek, the precise drumming of Jon Christensen, and unique bass sounds of Eberhard Weber, the music on this album lifted the ECM/Euro-styled jazz and improvised music to a new realm of pure expressionism. Simply put -- this music is stunningly beautiful. The incredible "Oceanus" begins with Towner's cascading guitar, followed by the swelling and symphonic bass of Weber, a swinging drum line by Christensen with Garbarek's atmospheric and dramatic curved soprano layering contrasting timbres, symmetry, and unusual colors. "Nimbus" opens with some astounding technical harmonics from Towner, more so considering the acoustic nature of his instrument. A circular theme in implied 3/4 underneath 4/4 leads to overdubbed flutes from Garbarek, bowed bass, the curved soprano in 6/8 all identifying the pure ECM sound. "Piscean Dance" is a funky workout between Towner and Christensen, the earthiest track on the date, and an exercise of intuitive confluence. Other portions of the disc are space oriented like the loose, free and haunting "Red & Black," "Visitation" with multiple percussion sounds of flexatone and shakers under Weber's bowed bass and Garbarek's alien dragonfly flute, while Weber's "Sand" has the musicians staring at the Crab Nebula while firmly rooted in a strut later in the piece. Towner's wondrous piano is heard on "Drifting Petals," a pretty and pensive waltz with unison lines alongside Garbarek's flute, then Towner switches to guitar in a deeper discourse with the quartet. As cold as the Norwegian studio (Oslo) they were recording in, "Winter Solstice" is not so much profound as it is telepathic, as the players use stop-start techniques, again inserting a 3/4 rhythm into a 4/4 equation. Of the many excellent recordings he has offered, Solstice is Towner's crowning achievement as a leader fronting this definitive grouping of ECM stablemates who absolutely define the label's sound for the time frame, and for all time.
Down Beat: “Solstice inspires through its expressive openness… revealing depth of texture, nuance and meaning.” Perfect Sound Forever: “The LP is not only one of the moodiest ever published by ECM, but by anyone.” Solstice, recorded 1974, belongs to the great early production projects of ECM, with a new band formed in the studio. It’s the first of Towner’s recorded encounters with the European players, and this US-Norwegian-German quartet has a character all its own. Ralph’s synthesis of classical guitar technique and jazz improvisational skills inspires all participants on now-famous tunes including “Nimbus” and “Oceanus”. (Many future associations grew out of this meeting, including the Garbarek/Towner collaboration on Dis, and the integration of Eberhard Weber into the Jan Garbarek Group, and of Jon Christensen into Weber’s Colours band.)
All compositions by Ralph Towner except where noted.
1. "Oceanus" – 11:04
2. "Visitation" – 2:36
3. "Drifting Petals" – 7:01
4. "Nimbus" – 6:31
5. "Winter Solstice" – 4:02
6. "Piscean Dance" – 4:15
7. "Red and Black" – 1:19
8. "Sand" (Eberhard Weber) – 4:10
Ralph Towner – 12-string and classical guitar, piano
Jan Garbarek – tenor and soprano saxophone, flute
Eberhard Weber – bass, cello
Jon Christensen – drums, percussion
Posted by Crimhead420 at 7:36 PM