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Ralph Towner

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Ralph Towner is the guitar player from the band Oregon. I always really liked his solo ECM recordings. The solo guitar albums are legendary, but one of - maybe, the first - Jazz albums I got was the 1st Solstice album on ECM.

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I remember reading about him in Guitar Player when I was a kid. They made him interesting by pointing out that he played Jazz not just on classical guitar, but also on 12-string guitar, so I had to check him out.

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My first Towner too - opened my ears to so much more.

Eberhard Weber is great here; and Jan Garbarek plays with a fire I rarely found elsewhere.

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I really like his contribution to Weather Report's "The Moors" (studio version) -- Joe Zawinul's story about how he got that performance out of Towner is amusing.

Guy

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I love Ralph's work - very haunting and tuneful. Two faves:

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Ana

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Solo Concert

I remember when I presented Oregon in concert at my college in 1974, the other 3 guys were vegetarians/health foodies, but Ralph proudly proclaimed that he loved hamburgers and fries.

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A true original, one of my favorite guitarists. Was just listening to Time Line a couple of days ago. I like everything I've ever heard. His solo disc Ana doesn't get mentioned very much; I think it's quite good. Sage Brush Rider is a trip!

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He toured in the UK about ten years back with Norma Winstone, John Taylor and Steve Swallow. A pity that collaboration never got to disc. I recall a Winstone/Towner ECM being slated on the old Jazzmatazz site. Never materialised.

These two are also overlooked but favourites of mine:

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i like towner with clive stevens best and next best would be with horacee arnold.

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a negative view (commercially) of towner in this period. by negative, i mean that the writer accuses people of using towner for commercial gains. i didn't realize towner was such a smoking hot piece of poozass. wow. i don't know who wrote this or where i lifted it from...

From there, Towner's name was accorded high-level cult status. In 1973, fusionist Horacee Arnold followed Weather Report's lead, featuring the guitarist on Tribe, an unknown classic blending him into a stellar cast: Joe Farrell, Dave Friedman, George Mraz, Ralph MacDonald, and a cat named Billy Harper on tenor. Ralph nabbed the LP's opening moments with his 12-string, then recessed to rhythm for the remainder of the first cut, a couple of times paralleling others' leadwork.

There's a problem here, though, one that occurred with dismaying frequency back in the day: the use of a musician to capture segments of the audience which mightn't otherwise pay attention. Towner appears only on the opening cut. The rest of the LP is excellent, worthy of a commemoration it presently doesn't receive and never has, but the mercenary tactic of garnering sales through the use of a rising star is... well, both satisfying and dismaying.

That same year, folkie Michael Johnson enjoyed Towner's work on the deservedly obscure There is a Breeze, and Oregon released Distant Hills, but ECM also grabbed the axehandler, featuring him not only in a solo debut, Diary but a "duet LP" with Glenn Moore as well, Trios/Solos. In reality, the disc was Oregon itself, fractionated into two- and three-man ensembles, though the lion's share went to the bassist and guitarist, presenting a string lover's delight. In essence, every cut was more an outtake improv from Oregon sessions than anything else. That, however, was exactly what the mob wanted, and that was exactly what we, thank all the stars in heaven, got. The initial groove displayed Towner in nimble-fingered glory, hands roving over a 12-string with mad abandon and startling precision. Compositionally, the LP was Towner's writing alone, or done with chums, in every song but two.

When he switched to classical guitar for the one-man "Winter Light," a tune that would become the titular banner for next year's Oregon release, the slower song was just as satisfying in a Hoagy Carmichael manner, giving way to the moody "Noctuary" with McCandless and Moore. Alternating between mistily engaging threnodies and vivacious complexities has ever been Towner's trademark and "1 X 12" became Ralph's alone, his 12-string blending classicalists, Kottke, and the maestro himself in his own unique sound, tapestries floating in mid-air.

1974 saw him asked back for Arnold's sophomore release, Tales of the Exonerated Flea, again for only a single cut but in a slab that also sported Jan Hammer and Rick Laird (Mahavishnu Orchestra), Dave Friedman once more, Sonny Fortune, and several others... including John Abercrombie. The alliance with Abercrombie would bear later fruit, but this outing is as much worth checking out as Arnold's first - in fact, more so, due to Hammer's unbelievable playing as well. Nothing from Ralph was outstanding in Tribe - in fact, Abercrombie and Hammer were the most commanding presences - except perhaps for the odd fact that Arnold chose Towner and Hammer for the only two rear liner photos, with Ralph decked out in a very uncharacteristic Claptony beard and mustache.

Clive Stevens decided Arnold's practice was a sound one and similarly grabbed Towner for the Atmospheres fusion LP's he put out in ‘74: Atmospheres and Voyage to Uranus, a twosome combusting Stevens' sax chops and the presence once again of John Abercrombie as he went thorugh his most psychedelic period. Like Arnold, Stevens barely used Towner in Voyage. Atmospheres was another story, though.

There, Ralph was led in for his keyboard playing, getting a true workout, quite an unexpected one at that. Ralph was never a rocker nor a true jazzer, and fusion requires a strong basing in both. Acquitting himself well, it would nonetheless be the last time such an inapposite form would be ventured by him. Oregon put out Winter Light and Ralph traveled over to Keith Jarrett's side of the ECM house, to sit in on In The Light.

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:party: Happy Birthday to a fine musician. I recall hearing Towner in performance back in the early to mid 1970s with the original edition of Oregon. What a wonderful group! In addition to guitars and piano he played French horn (very well I might add) at this concert, plus trumpet and cornet.

Let's hope that a few people in his home town of Chehalis, Washington are raising a glass in his honor today too.

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Solstice and Solo Concert are my two of my favorites by him.

He is also great on Gary Burton's Match Book.

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There, Ralph was led in for his keyboard playing, getting a true workout, quite an unexpected one at that. Ralph was never a rocker nor a true jazzer, and fusion requires a strong basing in both. Acquitting himself well, it would nonetheless be the last time such an inapposite form would be ventured by him. Oregon put out Winter Light and Ralph traveled over to Keith Jarrett's side of the ECM house, to sit in on In The Light.

More lame ass writing from Mark S. Tucker at Perfect Sound Forever.

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world, i agree.

a magnificent long forgotten towner ecmer(trio) is batik with eddie gomez and probably jack.

it is so very beautiful with tons of energy and really moves.

solstice, with an all-star cast, is inspired music.

i own a couple paul winter discs with towner, also.

Edited by alocispepraluger102

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I own about 18 Ralph Towner albums and yes, he is absolutely wonderful. Brilliant composer and guitarist. He has a very intriguing and unique style.

My first Towner album was Diary, but then I heard "Solstice" and was completely floored by his musical ability. "Solo Concert" is still one of my favorites. The opening song "Spirit Lake" still gives me cold chills. A few other good ones I still enjoy is "Blue Sun," which is pretty hard to find, "Open Letter" which had Peter Erskine on some of the tunes, and the duo album he did with John Abercrombie called "Sargasso Sea." "Batik" as many mentioned is very good,but I also liked "Old Friends, New Friends" with the wonderful Kenny Wheeler on trumpet. Man, there are so many good ones.....

Edited by bluenote82

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a magnificent long forgotten towner ecmer(trio) is batik with eddie gomez and probably jack.

I must transfer that one from LP.

Here's another hidden Towner, only available now as part of a 3CD Azimuth box - Winstone, Taylor, Wheeler + Towner:

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a magnificent long forgotten towner ecmer(trio) is batik with eddie gomez and probably jack.

I must transfer that one from LP.

Here's another hidden Towner, only available now as part of a 3CD Azimuth box - Winstone, Taylor, Wheeler + Towner:

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agreed. i'm lucky enough to have the vinyl.

Edited by alocispepraluger102

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Now listening to "Sound and Shadows" done with the Solstice group.

I think I'm enjoying Garbarek here more than I do with Keith Jarrett. Sometimes his tone annoys me...it's kinda sharp...

It's much more 'round' on this... :)

Edited by Parkertown

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i think it has to do with the melodies garbarek plays with the different musicians. with jarrett, i think the compositions combined with garbarek's tone can sound a bit annoying and cheesy.

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i think it has to do with the melodies garbarek plays with the different musicians. with jarrett, i think the compositions combined with garbarek's tone can sound a bit annoying and cheesy.

chesy indeed!

dis, by garbarek and towner is a most beautiful album, however.

Edited by alocispepraluger102

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One of the best albums Jan Garbarek ever did was with Charlie Haden and Egberto Gismonti called "Folk Songs." They did a second album called "Magico," but wasn't as good as their first one in my opinion.

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One of the best albums Jan Garbarek ever did was with Charlie Haden and Egberto Gismonti called "Folk Songs." They did a second album called "Magico," but wasn't as good as their first one in my opinion.

Is Ralph Towner on it?

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I also like alot of Garbarek's later recordings. I have almost everything he's ever done and I'm a big fan of his, so it's really hard for me to pick just one. I also like "Rites," "Twelve Moons," and "Witchi-Tai-To."

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One of the best albums Jan Garbarek ever did was with Charlie Haden and Egberto Gismonti called "Folk Songs." They did a second album called "Magico," but wasn't as good as their first one in my opinion.

Is Ralph Towner on it?

No, but Egerberto Gismonti is certainly South America's answer to Ralph Towner. He certainly is just as extraordinary as a musician as Towner is.

Edited by bluenote82

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Ralph Towner also made a guest spot on Kenny Wheeler's "Deer Wan" album. Great stuff.

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