Five Years Later
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Sargasso Sea in 1976 was the debut duo disc of great American guitarists Ralph Towner and John Abercrombie. On their follow-up recording Five Years Later - and it did come in 1981 - their improvisations draw on a wider sonic palette, to telling effect. That recording is now being re-issued for the first time on CD, simultaneously with a 180g vinyl version.
"Something special happens when they play together" observed Robert Palmer in the New York Times, and the participants concurred. "Playing with John is one of my favourite things to do," said Ralph Towner. "I can play as much as when playing solo, and still get to ply my skills as accompanist. John is such an amazing person to play with that, even when he's playing intensely or aggressively, we somehow fit together and there's really no way that we could collide."
At the beginning of 2014, ECM issues seven important recordings from its back catalogue, all in 180g vinyl and CD, most of which have been out of stock for many years. For both CD and LP versions, the original analog recordings are issued in deluxe cardboard sleeves.
Personnel: John Abercrombie (acoustic and electric guitars, electric 12-string guitar, mandolin guitar), Ralph Towner (12-string and classical guitars)
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"Sargasso Sea", I was fortunate to see their extraordinary sold-out show on the UK campus in Lexington, Kentucky.
I still fondly recall watching them both in deep concentration with their flawless precision and magnificent technique.
At LONG last, ECM has issued on cd the staggeringly beautiful 1981 followup "Five Years Later" by John Abercrombie
and Ralph Towner to their classic 1976 ECM duo recording "Sargasso Sea". Issued as part of ECM's new "Re:solution"
series, "Five Years Later" is also now available on vinyl and as a download, all with fabulous remastered clarity. I've
had a mint vinyl copy of "Five Years" since the early 80's and have hoped for years ECM would release it on cd. I've
seen it on countless "cd request" lists for a long time and now it's happened. I really can't say which one of the two
duo recordings is my favorite - they're both classic ECM landmark releases. Along with acoustic and electric guitars,
which Abercrombie played on "Sargasso Sea", he also plays electric 12-string guitar & mandolin guitar, while Towner
performs again on 12-string and classical guitars, but no piano as on "Sargasso Sea". There are eight pieces on "Five
Years Later" with three, "Late Night Passenger", "Microthema", & "Bumabia", written by both Towner and Abercrombie.
Towner composed two tunes, "Half Past Two" and "The Juggler's Etude", that feature himself and Abercrombie in total
acoustic duo performances. As on "Sargasso Sea", their musical empathy is remarkable. Towner contributes one more
piece, "Caminata", that is the shortest on the recording at just over three minutes and features overdubbed shadows
on electric guitar in brilliant fashion. The final two compositions, "Isla" and "Child's Play", which closes out the release,
were written by Abercrombie. "Child's Play" always reminds me of John's 1978 ECM solo guitar recording, "Characters",
which is highly regarded in his catalog. With "Five Years Later", John Abercrombie & Ralph Towner once more created
a multi-dimensional, atmospheric work with stellar acoustic & electric guitar interplay that always rewards with a rich
listening experience. As on their earlier "Sargasso Sea", they are brilliant shapers of sonic images with great depth and
beauty. "Five Years Later", as well, was beautifully recorded by the legendary Jan Erik Kongshaug at Talent Studios in
Oslo, Norway and produced by ECM founder/owner Manfred Eicher who we can thank for the cd release of "Five Years
Later". A timeless and haunting work-of-art from two guitar masters that sounds better than ever now on cd. If only
they could somehow tour near my area again. Thanks for the memories, John and Ralph.
P.S. Just recently read where John's classic 1979 ECM quartet release "Arcade" will be
released with his other two ECM quartet albums "Abercrombie Quartet" from 1980 and
"M" from 1981 in a 3 cd boxset from ECM later this year. "Arcade", in particular, is long
overdue for a domestic cd release, as the Japanese import version is out-of-print, rare,
and very expensive to find - it's been on many cd-wish lists (including mine) for years.
It's another landmark, classic ECM masterpiece & one of Abercrombie's finest releases.
One of the other reviewers stated that "Five Years Later" is better then "Sargasso Sea" and I agree in the sense that it is richer in texture and a little more sophisticated. However, it's difficult to compare rubies to emeralds. Both are breath taking.
This gives way to a very pretty all acoustic number with it's primary themes played in precision unison . The duel acoustics may remind many of Friday Night In San Francisco courtesy of several "other" like minded acoustic masters .
Then things really start to get interesting . I'm an enormous fan of both musicians and have heard a great deal of their work (solo and otherwise) . I've never heard Ralph play his guitar as percussively as he will begin to going forward . Laying a lengthy bed here for John to skitter over on modestly amplified guitar as a stone across a crystal water . Both musicians do rhythmic things in order to complement the other fellow's playing that are deeply rewarding and advanced .
I posit that this is , indeed , the preferential meeting of the five years in question . It's at least as desirable . Check it "in" .
This top quality performance of somewhat subdued rhythm, but full of beauty and lyricism, will uplift you with its exuberance and optimism. Add to that uncanny production quality, ECM label is famous for, and you have a winner. As one reviewer noted "Something special happens when they play together".
Recorded in 1981 this historical album is reissued by label in January 2014 together with other notable music under ECM Re_solutions "The story of our listening" series, cut and mastered from original analog sources and issued simultaneously in three media formats - as 180 gram vinyl album, as CD, and as high-resolution 96/24 download files, the later being my choice format.