David Torn Only Sky
(2015, ECM Records)
Only Sky finds the experimental guitarist/composer and long-time area resident David Torn not only on the ECM label but in full-on ECM mode. Manfred Eicher's imprint—the original home of Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, and more of jazz's best watercolorists—has always emphasized the smeared, impressionistic, introspective, and meditative dimensions of jazz. Improvisational, but anti-machismo, reverberent, and glacial in its willingness to dwell on sound, the ECM brand may be a second cousin of the New Age, but nothing closer. As a legit modern jazz institution and heir to that tradition's full payload of cerebral sophistication, ECM allows—nay, requires—far more tension, dissonance, and challenge than would ever trouble a Windham Hill reverie.
At times in his career, Torn has blurred the distinction between composition and sound design, and Only Sky does in fact open with a lengthy soundscape. But on track two and thereafter, Torn issues plenty of challenge, whether in the Frisell-like tense prettiness of "Spoke with Folks," the liquid, minimalist bluesiness of "Reaching Barely, Sparely Fraught," the pawing noise of "Was a Cave, There...," or the lovely Terje Rypdal-esque soloing of the title track. Via looping and other real-time manipulations, these solo performances don't always seem so very solo. Torn's master soundscaping comes as no surprise, but it is moving and fun to be reminded what a finely colored and fluid lead guitarist he can be. Davidtorn.net.