Oregon

Oregon

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In 1983, the ubiquitous composers' collective known as Oregon left its old homestead of Vanguard Records and moved over to Manfred Eicher's ECM. It was also one of the final recordings the band did with multi-instrumentalist Collin Walcott; he was killed in a car accident a year later. Here's the strange thing about this date: Since the early '70s, Oregon had been an acoustic, chamber jazz/improvisational group. ECM had seemed like a proper home to Oregon from the beginning -- especially since Ralph Towner, the group's guitarist and pianist -- had done tons of solo work for the label. So what's the first thing that appears on ECM? Towner playing a Prophet 5 synthesizer on "The Rapids," a track that belongs firmly in the Pat Metheny Group's canon -- even though he composed it. If he were trying for an imitation, he could never have gotten closer. With its crescendos, Paul McCandless' swirling soprano lines lyrically cascading over the top, and the Nana Vasconcelos-like percussion from Walcott, it is identical in compositional structure to anything from Offramp. The group improvisation "Beacon" is more in line with the band's musical aims, featuring Glen Moore on viola and McCandless on oboe, but Towner still holds fast to the synth instead of a guitar or piano. The piece is a study in textures and contrasts, with both Towner and Moore providing tonal drones for McCandless to move through and around. Of the rest, only "Taos" and "There Was No Moon That Night" are reminiscent of Oregon's ingenious musical past. The rest are loosely knit improvisations that seem to go nowhere; they're shoddy studies in dynamics and color with scant traces of microtonal ambiences seeming to be literally thrown in for good measure. If this disc was supposed to signal a new direction in the band's development, somewhere along the line they slipped off track, and despite the use of a Prophet 5, went backwards.

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