Ralph Towner’s magnificent new album, My Foolish Heart, is his first solo recording since Time Line (2006), more than ten years ago. In the liner notes, Towner explains that the title track – as performed by the Bill Evans Trio, featuring Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian, had a significant impact on his own playing, and on jazz musicians in general. Interestingly, Time Line also featured a tune associated with Evans, Gershwin’s My Man’s Gone Now. But as with Time Line, Towner prefers to look forward, not back, and the album predominantly features new compositions.
Pilgrim has a baroque feel to it, accentuated by Towner’s use of classical guitar. The tune opens with an elegant, simple melody, which gives way to some quite magical soloing, before Towner periodically returns to the refrain. I’ll Sing To You is a Spanish-tinged ballad, while Saunter, as the name suggests, is more jazz-influenced, and has a gentle swing to it.
Dolomiti Dance hints at Towner’s adopted hometown of Rome, and skips along at a fair pace, demonstrating that age has not diminished his playing in any way. Clarion Call sees Towner switch to the more ringing sound of the twelve-string guitar. The style is harder to pin down, and sounds more improvised, but is intriguing nonetheless.
Two Poets sees Towner revert to classical guitar, and again sounds more free-form in structure. It might be an unfinished short story, rather than a chapter, but the guitarist manages to leave us wanting more.
Blue As In Bley was composed as a tribute to the pianist, who passed away just two weeks before the recording. Once again, it has a Spanish vibe, the beautiful recording allowing us to hear every nuance in Towner’s playing as he improvises around the basic theme.
The title track is exquisite, Towner allowing plenty of space and reverence for the melody to breathe, whilst still adding his own unique spin. It would be good to hear Towner play an entire album of standards, just to hear what he can do, but the chance seems remote.
Shard sees Towner revisit a piece originally composed for Oregon, that appeared on Music Of Another Era (1973); it was originally little more than the introduction to Spring Is Really Coming, and whilst Towner expands on it here, it still lasts for less than one minute. The album closes with the lovely Rewind, a little known track from one of Oregon’s later albums, Beyond Words (1996). It’s a delightful composition, and deserves greater recognition.
My Foolish Heart is one of Towner’s finest solo recordings. Part of this is down to the excellent production; it sounds less restrained than some of his earlier ECM albums, and offers a greater clarity which really brings the recording to life. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to find many better solo guitar recordings than this. But Towner’s playing is also quite superb. In the brief liner notes, he expresses hope that the inspiration he originally gained from hearing Bill Evans is can still be felt. My Foolish Heart offers conclusive proof that it can.