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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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ECM Records ECM 1258




1. The Rapids
2. Beacon
3. Taos
4. Beside a Brook
5. Arianna
6. There Was No Moon That Night
7. Skyline
8. Impending Bloom
Ralph Towner - Piano, Prophet 5 synthesiser, classical guitar,
12-string guitar
Paul McCandless - Soprano sax, oboe, tin flute, English horn, bass clarinet, musette
Collin Walcott - Percussion, tongue drum, bass drum, sitar, tabla, voice
Glen Moore - Double bass, viola, piano

This eponymously-titled album dates from 1983, the year before Collin Walcott was killed in a car accident. So it was one of the last of the recordings made by the first classic line-up of this long-running group. In fact the other three members have been part of the group since it began in 1970 - and it is still going strong. Not only are they still thriving but they continue to progress - and to blend together all kinds of music. In fact Collin Walcott's contributions made them one of the early groups to experiment with world music.

But their music fused many other elements, including jazz, folk and classical. Their virtuosity on many different instruments meant that they found appropriate voices for each of their compositions, which were often group constructions or improvisations. The result is a mixture of sounds and styles which continually intrigues the listener. Certainly it can seem too "cerebral" and it doesn't always swing in the conventional sense (although Collin Walcott's successor, percussionist Trilok Gurtu, added a desirable extra impetus to the band).

The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz describes Oregon as a "jazz chamber ensemble", and this seems a fitting description for the restrained, semi-classical atmosphere of many tracks. Ralph Towner's opening The Rapids creates the impression of fresh fast-running water, with a jaunty rhythm like an Irish jig. Paul McCandless's Beside a Brook also has a limpid quality, with his solo flowing along benignly.

Glen Moore's Arianna is different: an almost portentous piece, with Ralph Towner's synthesiser chiming like mysterious bells and Walcott's sitar adding to the air of exotic mystery. As a contrast, Walcott's bass drum and Indian-style chanting introduce Impending Bloom, an optimistic piece by Glen Moore anticipating the arrival of his new baby.

The four other tracks are credited simply to "Oregon" as composers, suggesting the group's closeness whether composing or improvising. By the time this album was recorded, they knew each other very well and could respond sympathetically - virtually telepathically - to one another. Taos is almost hypnotic in its increasing complexity and richness: an impressionistic masterpiece, while There Was No Moon That Night features the enigmatic sound of Paul McCandless's bass clarinet and the sprightly guitar of Ralph Towner.

We can be grateful that ECM has reissued this album at mid-price in its new "Touchstones" series celebrating the ECM label's forthcoming 40th anniversary. As with many ECM albums, the recording quality is faultless.

Tony Augarde


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