Oregon: s/t (ECM 1258)


Paul McCandless reeds, flute
Glen Moore bass, violin, piano
Ralph Towner guitar, piano, synthesizer
Collin Walcott sitar, percussion, voice
Recorded February 1983, Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

By the time of this self-titled ECM debut, the collective known as Oregon had firmly established its uncategorizable sound on a host of recordings for Vanguard. From the cover photograph, which stands as one of the more confounding choices in ECM history, those unfamiliar with Oregon would probably never guess that the music it sleeves could be so ethereal. Oregon finds the group still in its original incarnation with Paul McCandless, Ralph Towner, Glen Moore, and Collin Walcott (in one of his last sessions with the group before his life was tragically ended in a 1984 car crash).

The opening chords of “The Rapids” render some of the album’s more compositionally minded passages (the others being McCandless’s “Beside A Brook” and two pieces from Moore, of which the winged “Arianna” stands out). And yet, while rays of light shoot from McCandless’s soprano, the music’s percussive colors are what really hold our attention. Oregon doesn’t so much cross into as over idioms, as exemplified to pointillist effect in the droning “Beacon.” These sustained emotions continue later in “Skyline,” before carrying us into “Impending Bloom,” the rhythms of which burst like an organic ancestor of Aphex Twin’s “Alberto Balsalm.” It also constitutes a meta-descriptive statement for Oregon’s musical process, where the idea of profusion is but a memory on the slope toward a different kind of light. It moves with the persistence of a small locomotive, soprano saxophone flirting with the snake of smoke above it. The evocative “Taos” is another highlight, so adroitly negotiating as it does subterranean thrums with high flutes. The crepuscular guitar and wayfaring bass clarinet of “There Was No Moon That Night” form yet another.

I must confess that, despite Oregon’s legendary status, I was only recently introduced to their music via this recording. A magical experience. As I understand it, those more well-versed than I in Oregon lore tend to look down upon this album, so who knows how my relationship with it might change as I begin to familiarize myself with the more classic material. Whatever may come, I know I’ll always appreciate this date for having shown me the way.

<< Barre Phillips: Call me when you get there (ECM 1257)
>> Jan Garbarek Group: Wayfarer (ECM 1259)

7 thoughts on “Oregon: s/t (ECM 1258)

  1. My understanding is that Oregon elected to do a largely improvised record for their formal ECM debut, and then turned to a composition based record for the follow up, “Crossing.” It could be that as the first recording date with synthesizers, long-time fans reacted negatively. I’ve been a fan of these musicians for 35 years now, and have loved this record since it was released. “Taos” is a marvel, one of my favorites from the canon.

    1. This is exactly the kind of information I’m ignorant of, and makes me admire the album all the more. The group improvise as if they’ve agreed upon everywhere they’re going.

  2. Not good in english, so just a shout. Out of the Woods, Oregon and Crossing are my 3 most favourite Oregon recordings.

      1. OOTW is often considered their zenith, and a fine album it is, too.

        For many years the ECM records were all I knew of Oregon, but I’ve been exploring their back catalog on Vanguard and Elektra quite a bit in the past couple of years. (Driven in the main by becoming something of a Ralph Towner fanatic in the last half-decade or so.) Roots in the Sky and Music of Another Present Era, along with OOTW, are my favorites so far. Though I’ll always be grateful to Ecotopia’s “Innocente” for introducing me to Oregon and Towner.

  3. I’m surprised that this LP was so underated. I find it nice and quite correct with the use of synthetisers but maybe I’m not original.

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