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. Towner's playing here, with 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. There are no excessive solos in the improvisational sections no matter how long the tracks are. "Distant Hills" and "Balance Beam" are both over ten minutes in length but remain collaborative; compositional structure is given due consideration in the plot and expression of a particular player's solo. Towner, at least at this point in his career, and again much later, was a master of understatement. His sonic intentions were to allow his works to occur to the listener in process rather than be recognizable immediately. They develop, even the shorter pieces, over time and musical motif; modal structures seemingly appear from the ether though they had been in the making from the first measures. Also, rhythmic considerations are modular in Towner's works and Jon Christensen is the perfect drummer for executing them. Jan Garbarek's playing was just beginning to take on its melodic, contoured style incorporating folk melodies from his and other native lands into his playing -- though his tone was and is unchanged. And Eberhard Weber and Towner have near telepathic communication between them. His basslines and cello phrases hang like ghosts in the air unmoving in the stillness, allowing Towner's guitars to puncture them and move them along into different modes of expression and tonality. This is a very solid date by a group of musicians who could be nearly invisible as individuals in order to put a tune through its paces if that's what it took; a very fine effort.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek