An ECM artist for his entire musical career, US guitarist Ralph Towner has built up a unique body of work in his recordings for the label. Central to his oeuvre are his solo albums, the first of which, Diary, was issued 50 years ago. At First Light extends this great tradition, drawing inspiration from a broad palette of music.
In his liner notes for At First Light, Ralph Towner writes of the singularity of having most of his life’s work at one record label. He’s been an ECM artist for more than fifty years, appearing in many different contexts, one of the most important being a run of solo recordings which began with Diary in 1973. At First Light is the newest addition to the solo guitar series. Recorded at Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano, in February 2022, At First Light was produced by Manfred Eicher.
“My solo recordings,” says Towner, “have always included my own compositions in which there are trace elements of the composers and musicians that have attracted me over the years. Musicians such as George Gershwin, John Coltrane, John Dowland, Bill Evans, to name a few. The blend of keyboard and guitar techniques is an important aspect of my playing and composition, and I feel that this album is a good example of shaping this expanse of influences into my personal music.”
In addition to his own pieces, Towner also plays Hoagy Carmichael’s “Little Old Lady”, Jule Styne’s “Make Someone Happy,” and the traditional tune “Danny Boy.”
Born into a musical family in Washington in 1940, Towner grew up immersed in classical music, jazz, and the popular music of the day. A trumpet player from the age of seven, he took up piano seriously in his teens, in parallel studying composition, then embraced the classical guitar at 22. “I found that it was a very pianistic instrument, capable of sophisticated polyphony and myriad tone colors.” He subsequently moved to Vienna to study classical guitar. “My studies involved much renaissance and baroque music which was to play a great part in shaping my writing and performance techniques.”