This is arguably the first recording to fully flesh out the aural expanse for which ECM has come to be known. Although I am well aware of the immense groundswell of musical activity that was the 1970s, certainly an album like this was a refreshing and altogether mind-altering experience for those fortunate enough to be young musical explorers at the time. Featuring a lineup of musicians who would go on to weave ECM’s significance into the fabric of time, Solstice is a tour de force of musicianship, writing, arrangement, and recording.
This limited edition, 'Works Series', gives a reasonable overview of Garbarek's prolific output on ECM over a period of ten years (1970-80). Unusually, three of the eight tracks showcase him playing flute, which would be a rarity now, and both his tenor & soprano sax work is also featured.
Ralph Towner is in fine form on this set of five tracks, the first of which, "Distant Hills," is an Oregon standard from the band's Vanguard period. Towner's compositions shine with their subtlety and grace. The playing here by Towner and a group of other ECM artists is what made the label so noteworthy: It is full of elegance and aplomb and the musicians are as aware of space as they are of what fills it.
It might be tempting to dismiss this Ralph Towner effort as New Age fluff, but the music is so gorgeous that any such considerations fall to the wayside. Yet the wayside is precisely where Towner sets his sights, which is to say that his interest lies in edges where musical idioms meet. He explores these lines, not unlike the blotted cover, with an ease of diction at the fret board that is recognizable and comforting. Drummer Peter Erskine shares the bill, but Towner adds a few synth touches for broader effect, as in “The Sigh,” which opens the session in a cleft of fluid energy.