1. Hop to It
2. As She Sleeps
4. Summer's End
5. On the Rise
6. Glacial Blue
8. Song for a Friend
10. The Cat Piano
11. In Stride
Paul McCandless - Oboe, English horn, soprano sax, flutes
Ralph Towner - Classical guitar, twelve strings, synth guitar, piano
Glen Moore - Double bass
Mark Walker - Drums, hand percussion
I first became interested in the ensemble Oregon when I heard them with Trilok Gurtu as their drummer. His unusual use of all kinds of percussion added spice to the sound of a group whose three other members had been together since 1970. Their previous drummer - Colin Walcott - died in 1984, at which point Trilok came in to give a different slant to the group's music. Their current percussionist - Mark Walker - is more conventional than Trilok, but their appeal continues untarnished.
Oregon's music might be described as "chamber jazz", although this would be an inadequate phrase if it implied a lack of warmth or melodic interest. The quartet's compositions and improvisations may seem more inhibited or polite than many other jazz groups but there is no doubting their technical brilliance, musical integrity and heartfelt playing. There is humour, too, in bassist Glen Moore's The Cat Piano, with the double bass supplying feline noises accentuated by the drums.
Ralph Towner wrote eight of the eleven tunes, with one each supplied by the three other members of the band. Many of the melodies have a folky or even classical feel, emphasised by Ralph's use of the acoustic guitar and Paul McCandless's variety of wind instruments. In fact Ralph's guitar sometimes adds a hint of flamenco, for instance in As She Sleeps. And his piano-playing on such tracks as Summer's End has a pleasingly lyrical lilt.
Paul McCandless states many of the melodies on his eloquent oboe or English horn and he also improvises with unflagging invention. But each member of the group plays an integral role in the music, which consistently exhibits the ensemble's empathy - for example, in the duet between Towner's guitar and Walker's hand drums in On the Rise. Unsurprisingly, they sound like a group which has been together for a long time but whose members still appreciate one another's contributions.
Some listeners may feel that this album lacks the gut appeal of much jazz - although the title-track is as exciting a piece of jazz-fusion as I have heard. While some people may dismiss it as pretty-pretty, I applaud the sheer beauty of the music. As Paul McCandless sums it up in the sleeve-notes: "We brought to the language of jazz a new dialect, incorporating the phrasing of European classical music, the harmonies of jazz and the rhythms of world music into an original sound".