Those rangy nylon strings - and two 12-string tunes - fan out their notes tenderly in the hands of one-time Oregon guitarist Ralph Towner on his latest album My Foolish Heart. This release marks 44 years of recording albums for Manfred Eicher's ECM label.

Towner’s 41-minute session, recorded in Lugano in February 2016, begins with the infectious Pilgrim, an endearing musical opening.  Next up is the tuneful ballad without words,  I’ll Sing to You. Saunter is an abstract painting by Matisse perhaps, all darts of light and angled blocks of shade. It's one of the first of the more complex pieces gathered here, without the accessible winnability, as it were, of the opening two tracks.

There is a rich, wistful reading of Ned Washington/Victor Young classic My Foolish Heart. “My Foolish Heart... had an immeasurable impact on my musical life,” declares Ralph. “The seminal version, played by Bill Evans, Scott LeFaro and Paul Motian set me on a course to try to attain the magic of this trio in my own attempts to play the piano, and, later, on the classical guitar which became my principal instrument.“

He switches to the 12-string guitar for Clarion Call, so you get that faint Balkan or Eastern resonance on this highly imaginative exercise, which flaunts a kind of sonic majesty. Blue as in Bley is a visionary but oddly instinctive tribute to jazz musician Paul Bley (1932-2016).

The album concludes with the spirited Rewind which operates a bit like a sea-shore in the middle of a slight storm, wavelets of music pelting their little whitecaps at the listener. Altogether, a rewarding record, replete with depth and intelligence.

Paddy Kehoe