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Time Line

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Album Review

It's hard to believe that it's been more than five years since Ralph Towner issued his last solo guitar album, or any album under his own name, for that matter. Anthem was issued in 2000. Time Line is a return to the stark, spacious and lyrical explorations of that set. That's not to say this is any kind of direct replica. Towner's a restless artist, he pushes his boundaries on the classical and 12-string guitars. The set contains 14 new compositions and two fine covers that provide the real reason for Towner's not-so-secret inspiration here: George Gershwin's "My Man's Gone Now," and Harold Arlen's "Come Rain or Come Shine." The muse, of course, is Bill Evans. Evans has been forever associated with the former tune since his 1961 trio performance of it at the Village Vanguard; the latter is a tune he played live fairly often in the '60s and even the '70s. Time Line is full of lively, even, bright textures and moods. Check out the languid beauty of "Turning of the Leaves" or the nearly singing "Always by Your Side," or the nearly Celtic folk aspects of "Anniversary Song," where he plays airs and rounds. The moodier and more melancholy side of his playing can be heard in the brief "Oleander Etude," or the tender, near flamenco single string playing in the 50-second section of "Five Glimpses/3." "Freeze Frame," the gorgeous 12-string exercise here, uses the instrument's droning quality to establish a harmonic resonance in spite of the legato playing he does on the higher strings. The set closes with the Gershwin tune, also played on the 12-string. His chromatic elegance and grace underscore the tune's nuances and subtleties even as he brings the lyric to the fore with extended chord voicings and embellishing the sonorities that echo the piano's more controlled tensions. In sum, this is a brief but utterly captivating issue from one of the music's great composers and theorists that should not be missed by anyone interested in Towner, of course, but also in melodic improvisation and composition.

Customer Reviews

Timeless on the Timeline

Ralph Towner is the single most important solo improvising guitarist on the international scene. For readers who may not be completely familiar with his work, Towner is a composer and jazz pianist who also trained on the classical guitar to develop at once, a unique pianistic approach on the guitar, and also something quite new to guitar textures on the 12-string guitar - diverse sounds and textures which are sometimes almost Eastern, or of the essence of a blues music - the earliest expressions of improvised american music, or strangely, very much in the manner of the European avant garde. Towner is a well-versed musician who understands the traditions of jazz and popular song, and also classical music, without compromise. Improvising seamlessly from these traditions he has created both a wholly new kind of music on one hand, and also a very personal approach to existing style. Immediately recognizable, one distinction of Towner's and apparent on this disc is the sound of an 'artistic weight' unrealized by very few other guitarists improvising these days. This characteristic is not only to be found in the more serious pieces where the harmonic language and texture of voices is complex but also in the simpler pieces where he evokes a strangely sophisticated sense of americana. Listen to cuts three and five. A cosmopolitan poet of the guitar he has recorded here a varied set of pieces, some of which are stylistically aligned with the traditions of European post-romantic music, a characteristic of his in this period. We also find virtuosically played pieces which are more like etudes composed for the classical guitar. and here Towner pronounces the difference between 'style' and 'idea' - his compositions and improvisations are always based in the world of idea, style being some result of the process. This is exemplified most in his 'Five Glimpes'. Whereas in the ballads his characteristic idioms are apparent, never does he play from the point of view of 'style'. The music on this disc seems to come from disparate places simultaneously and from different points in time, creating Towner's unusual timeline of sound and narrative. As for the standard 'Come Rain or Come Shine', his modal intro gives way to a completely swinging performance, and as is usually written about his standards playing, it seems inspired by Bill Evans - though Towner long ago found his original voice playing standards on the guitar. He swings in the deepest of ways with incredible time and feel, not in the often awkward way which many jazz guitarists do - setting themselves apart from the jazz mainstream. Towner on the other hand, is one of the only jazz guitarists who can be spoken of in the same breath as the few other great improvisors of his generation - much in the same way that Julian Bream and few others transcended the insular world of 'classical guitar' and played on a par with other great classical artists. One wishes that Towner would consider recording a disc of standards, played in a way that only he can. His playing of Gershwin's 'My Man's Gone Now' brings a fresh breath to standards playing not only because he plays the tune on the twelve-string guitar but because he has amplified his own idiosyncrasies to a point here that the tune almost seems like an original of his - a kind of personal approach to a standard which seems nearly impossible to do in these days of stylized and almost amateurish artistic approaches. A very special piece on this disc is 'Turning of the Leaves' where many of the primary aspects of his lyrical compositional style and guitaristic approach come together to create one of his most beautiful and romantic pieces. On this recording he gives us yet again not only magical music but something greater than a glimpse of his personal musical timeline - rather a view of a very particular world of beauty and truth.


This is a great CD full of great music by the musical legend Ralph Towner.. Buy it.. It's worth every penny...

Time Line......Ralph Towner

A beautiful record of guitar/composition/improvising. Since the 1970's Ralph has always played with HIS OWN voice on the guitar. He really has paved the way for a whole genre of finger style jazz players who combine that type of technique with a very modern harmonic concept. This CD is a gem! Great to hear the wisdom of old age as it channels through a master musician!


Born: March 1, 1940 in Chehalis, WA

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

One of the founders of Oregon, Ralph Towner is one of the few modern jazz musicians to specialize in acoustic guitar. His playing often stretches beyond the boundaries of conventional jazz into world music and is quite distinctive. He started playing piano when he was three and trumpet at five, performing in a dance band when he was 13. Towner studied classical guitar in Vienna and played with classical chamber groups in the mid-'60s. After moving to New York in 1969, Towner worked with Jimmy Garrison,...
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Time Line, Ralph Towner
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  • $11.99
  • Genres: Jazz, Music, Classical
  • Released: Mar 24, 2006

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