Chronicle Box: Winter Light/Friends/Moon and Mind

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WINTER LIGHT continues Oregon's early string of moody, complex, genre-smashing albums that combine a jazz ethos, accessible melodies, world music flavors, and chamber ensemble intimacy. With each of the group's four members extremely fluent on a variety of instruments, Oregon has the ability to shift shapes and sounds from song to song, and WINTER LIGHT is as prismatic, thoughtful, and beautiful as Oregon fans would expect.

"Witchi-Tai-Tao" showcases Ralph Towner's lush, expressive solo piano (predating George Winston's similar-sounding recordings for Windham Hill), and "Rainmaker" surges along on a gentle pulse, with piano and woodwinds circulating around the melody. Elsewhere the album is nervous (the tabla and twelve-string fueled opener "Tide Pool," for example), and displays Oregon's characteristic adventurousness, which alternates between highly atmospheric minimalism (there is a good deal of calculated space in the group's compositions) and fiery improvisation. When the quartet is working at their strongest, as they are on WINTER LIGHT, the results are unique and always engaging.

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