Ralph Towner, ‘Solitary Woman’.

The studio recording of this tune still gives me the chills every time I hear it.  Ralph Towner is usually described with words like “enigmatic” and “quirky”, and from the first time I heard him with the group Oregon I could hear that.  (I was drawn to Oregon for other reasons at the time;  Paul McCandless had just floored me with his musical persona while touring with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, and I was mostly listening for reeds.)  It was the trio record with drummer Bill Bruford and bassist Eddie Gomez, If Summer Had Its Ghosts, where I first really heard Towner’s voice as the understated powerhouse it is.

Many years later, it was Pandora that introduced me to the haunting 12-string brood that is “Solitary Woman”.  From first listen I was hooked, and the more I hear it now, the more I like the piece.

Of course, I then wanted to see if I could find a clip of Towner playing it live.  And I have to say, I was surprised.  I have seen two, both relatively recent, and both of them left me asking, “What happened?”

It’s not that I’m expecting him to play it the same way he does on the record–in fact I rather like it when artists re-interpret their own work, and in the “jazz” idiom, it’s nearly expected anyway.  But something just doesn’t seem right.  At the risk of trivializing it, there are big, obvious clams–as in “lost his way” sort of clams.  (And not intentional ones, either;  those have a very different sound.)  The sort of mistakes you’d expect someone like me to make.  It doesn’t fit what (little, admittedly) I know of Towner.

But the biggest thing, for me, is that in the live recordings he seems so…rushed.  One of the giant hallmarks of the studio piece is its simmering patience, especially in the rising-dyad theme that so beautifully frames that giant leading tone.  Both the dynamics and the timing are deliciously infuriating, and I would say it all seems to rise out of a position of resigned, moody patience.  I’d go so far as to say it nearly defines the piece on its own, and I would naturally expect to see Towner go through all sorts of variations and improvisation within that framework.  That’s not in evidence for either of the two recent live clips I’ve seen, and I must conclude that something else may be at work here.

The piece itself, though…man, what a lovely, haunting brood.  Bookmarked!


Doug Smith, ‘A Fine Line’.

Must.  Bookmark.  Doug Smith, “A Fine Line”.

So.  Friggin.  Lovely.  (And I’d had no idea there was a clip of him playing it live.)

At some point will have to study the score a bit–best to bookmark his site as well.  🙂

Ewan Dobson, ‘Paganini’s Hip’.

I actually can’t quite remember how I first ran across Canadian guitarist Ewan Dobson–whether it was that he got a play on Pandora, or if I stumbled across him on YouTube at one point.  Little matter in the end;  I find a great deal of interest in what I’ve seen of him so far.

The fella has an enigmatic sense of humor that lends a lot to his credibility.  Just check out these three clips from a “method” video of his, in which he explains some of his influences.  (“Sauron must be praised!”)  In his YouTube presence in general, he’s known for goofy garb and backgrounds.  One certainly does not get the sense that he takes himself too seriously, which I find endearing.

And yet I find some of his stuff really compelling.  The one which inspired this post, “Paganini’s Hip”, is a piece I intend to study further:

Then there is this enigma “Acoustimetallus Plectrus”, which runs really hard up against the “too many ideas in one sitting” criticism, but which I find insistently interesting nevertheless:

And this tune “Marli”, as a completely different example, is just lovely.  (And, of course, makes me want a friggin’ twelve-string all over again!)

LATER:  Went in search of a six-string presentation of “Marli”.  Found one.

Still a lovely tune, but this thing seems made for octaves.  🙂

Jack Rose, ‘Cross the North Fork’.

I found out about the late Jack Rose from Pandora–and I believe this was the first tune of his I heard.  Partway through the lovely moody brood, my brain realized it could not ignore any further.  “Who is this?”

Apparently, Rose was like that.  “Cross the North Fork” is still my favorite of his originals, but I find a lot to like in the listening I have done.

So, more then.  🙂


Dan Crary, ‘Lady’s Fancy’.

When I first got blown away by bluegrass music, I do recall running across Dan Crary’s name here and there, but somehow it all got lost after discovering Tony Rice’s astonishing work with the first David Grisman Quintet.  And so it took a number of years for me to circle back around to Crary as a composer.

Mistake.  Dan Crary is a monster and has been for a long time.  When I first started to set up a Pandora station for “work”, Crary was the first seed, and that has turned out to be an inspired choice.

I don’t remember finding a live clip of him playing “Lady’s Fancy” the first time I looked for one, but fortunately, there is at least one!

Duly bookmarked!

Michael Hedges, ‘Two Days Old’.

Sometimes it can be overwhelming, to contemplate just how much great music has been inspired by Michael Hedges’ pioneering efforts.

But, regardless of that, and regardless of the continued technical development that players are now demonstrating…there’s no denying that there was only one Michael Hedges.  I’d forgot how chillingly moving this clip of “Two Days Old”, from his last show at the Varsity Theatre in Palo Alto (before it closed), is.


Davey Graham, ‘She Moved Through the Fair’.

A few years ago, I spent some effort carving out a place for British guitarist Davey Graham’s instrumental music on my Pandora “work” station.  (It was an effort because Pandora kept thinking that I wanted to hear blues singers;  the system took a while to learn otherwise, but we got there.)  This morning, “She Moved Through the Bizarre / Blue Raga” came up, and reminded me why that effort was so entirely worth it.

There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of video of him playing live, but there is this, which is close enough to make the point.

And as for the version from the record, that is here.

Graham is a bigger influence on lots of players than you’d think, given his own relative obscurity.  That fella seemed to have his own demons, but he was the real deal and a fantastic fount of great ideas.