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Having just passed the fiftieth anniversary of his career as an ECM recording artist, Ralph Towner settles in to make his latest statement. Eschewing not only the piano but also 12-string guitar, Towner sticks with classical guitar on At First Light; the tonal consistency and aural clarity gives the performances a casual, intimate feel. Despite being eighty-three years old, Towner’s fingerpicking is as nimble as ever, and still a perfect example of using classical technique to play jazz. Check out “Fat Foot,” with its funky rhythm moving the changes along briskly, or “Guitarra Piccante,” a brisk cover of his own tune from the annals of Oregon that massages jump blues into new shapes. He lays down plenty of examples of his personal version of exploratory jazz, working and re-working his own melodies through “Empty Stage,” “Flow,” and the title track. Towner again makes his own way through the blues for “Little Old Lady,” a swinging Hoagy Carmichael tune from the musical The Show Must Go On, and assumes a mastery of the jazz ballad with a lovely take on “Make Someone Happy,” from the musical Do Re Mi (and a tune favored by one of Towner’s primary influences, Bill Evans). Five decades on, Towner has lost none of his skill, taste, or fire, making At First Light a new career high.
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