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Members include TrilokGurtu(born 1951; member 1985-1990), tabla, percussion; Paul McCandless (born 1947), oboe, bass clarinet, saxophone; GlenMoore(born 1941),bass; Ralph Towner(born 1940), guitar, keyboards; CollinWalcott(born 1945; killed in car accident, November 8, 1984), percussion, sitar, tabla; Mark Walker (joined 1997), percussion. Addresses: Record company--Intuition, Schott Music and Media, P.O. Box 27 01 26, D-50508, Cologne, Germany.
For more than three decades, Oregon has occupied a hard-to-define niche between jazz and classical chamber music. Members Ralph Towner, Paul McCandless, and Glen Moore have remained a distinctive and idiosyncratic musical entity, continuing to tour and record after weathering the loss of percussionist Collin Walcott in 1984. The band began exploring the blending of Western and Third World musical traditions years before such hybrids became commonplace, and continues to follow its own creative path with little concession to commercial fashion. Oregon has been credited with anticipating the rise of New Age and World Beat music styles, though they have disavowed such associations in interviews.
Since its inception, Oregon has confounded easy labeling by critics. "The music is hard to categorize," writer Dick Nusser noted in a 1977 Billboard concert review. "Some of the best of it is improvisatory, but it is still not jazz.... The group's ability to develop and comment on a theme puts it close to classical music, but the underlying thought is always modern. It uses microphones, but could be described as acoustic. Suffice it to say, Oregon is unique."
Each of Oregon's founding members brought a seasoned instrumental talent to the band. Towner began as a piano and trumpet student while in high school in Bend, Oregon, then took up the classical guitar while studying composition at the University of Oregon in Eugene. It was there in 1960 that he met fellow student Glen Moore, a Portland native who had studied classical bass in Europe. They began working together in clubs, playing a mixture of Bill Evans jazz material and Brazilian music. During the 1960s, they worked as backup musicians for singer/songwriter Tim Hardin and played on occation with Collin Wolcott, a New York-born percussionist with a degree in ethnomusicology from UCLA and training on sitar and tabla. In 1969, Towner, Moore and Walcott were recruited to join the Paul Winter Consort, an eclectic ensemble combining classical, jazz and ethnic music. Also in the Consort was Pennsylvania native Paul McCandless, a versatile woodwinds player with symphony orchestra experience.
The four future Oregon members contributed much to the Paul Winter Consort, and in turn the experience helped to stimulate their own creativity. "When we joined Paul Winter he was playing a collection of styles rather than an amalgamation of styles," Towner recalled in a 1988 interview with Down Beat writer John Diliberto. "We were playing everything from Elizabethan music to Brazilian music to adaptations of Baroque music and some adaptations of Bartok. So when I joined Paul, that really triggered some composition from me that was going to accommodate all these really interesting and wonderful combinations of instruments." Towner's best-known composition with the Paul Winter Consort was the title tune from the album Icarus,an evocative piece that pointed towards Oregon's musical direction.
Towner, Moore, Walcott and McCandless began to develop a body of material and an overall sound during private jam sessions and parties. In the summer of 1970, they recorded an album's worth of compositions at a studio in Los Angeles which failed to earn them a major record label contract. (These recordings would finally be released by Vanguard as Our First Record in 1980). They continued on, making their debut as a live act in 1971. After several false starts, the band settled on the name Oregon, suggested by McCandless in honor of Towner and Moore's home state.
Signing with Vanguard Records, Oregon recorded a new batch of material that was released as the LP Music From Another Present Era in 1972. This album displayed the band's essential sound, defined by Towner's deft classical guitar, McCandless's moodily lyrical oboe, Moore's subdued but steady basswork and Walcott's ruminating tabla playing. Distant Hills released in 1973 continued in a similar vein, while Winter Light released in 1974 added a Native American influence in such pieces as "Witchi-Tai-To." The band veered toward a more definite jazz direction on Together, a collaboration with legendary drummer Elvin Jones that added new rhythmic twists to their music.
By the late 1970s, the group had attracted a devoted audience as a touring act. Describing Oregon in concert, Musicianwriter Len Lyons termed them "a band characterized by a delicate touch, subtle interplay of its instruments, and a presentation not unlike chamber music.... The musicians--except for occational moments of wit--play their instruments deliberately, concentrating with the intensity of surgeons around an operating table. Their audience is attentive, patient through the sometimes slowly-evolving pieces, and faithful."
Switching to Elektra Records, Oregon released Out of the Woodsin 1978, followed by Roots in the Skya year later. These albums refined the band's approach further, with Towner increasingly favoring piano over guitar and McCandless choosing to play soprano saxophone more frequently. In 1980, the band members scattered to pursue solo projects for several years, then regrouped and signed a new record contract with the jazz-oriented ECM label. Oregonappeared in 1983 and found the group revitalized, steering away from the darker shadings of their earlier work in favor of brighter, more engaging textures. Synthisizers began to be encorporated into Oregon's acoustic sound for the first time during this period.
The 1980s saw the rise of New Age musicians whose multi-cultural influences and ambient soundscapes drew comparisons with Oregon's work. However, Moore distanced his group from the "New Age" tag in Oregon's 1988 Down Beat interview: "We've been identified with this movement because of the some of the instruments are similar and because some of our students are out there after just a few years of studying, making records. But we've shunned and shy away from this association because it's not very well grounded and doesn't contain, to us, enough of this searching urgency that has characterized every one of our lives.... Of looking to perfect the sound, perfect the way of playing in ensemble circumstances."
Crossing, released in 1985, proved to be the last recording by the original quartet. After completing the album, Wolcott was killed in an automobile accident on November 8, 1984. The loss of their friend and collegue devastated Oregon's surviving members and almost put an end to the group. After much soul-searching, Towner, Moore and McCandless decided to carry on and recruited Wolcott's close friend Trilok Gurtu to join them. His impressive credentials as a drummer in both jazz and traditional Indian ensembles made him Wolcott's most natural replacement.
After an uneven start on 1987's Ecotopia,Oregon began to regain their stride on 45th Parallel in 1989 and Always, Never, And Forever in 1991, both released on the VeraBra label. Gurtu left the group after the latter album, and Oregon recorded Troika released in 1994 and Beyond Words released in 1995 as a trio. On Northwest Passage,released by the German-based Intuition label in 1997, the band enlisted the aid of percussionists Arto Tuncboyanciyan and Mark Walker. After working on this album, Chicago-born Walker became a full-time Oregon member. His background as a percussionist with Latin and Brazilian ensembles added a fresh perspective to the band.
In 2000, Oregon celebrated its 30th anniversary by releasing Oregon in Moscow,a double CD recorded live with the Moscow Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra. The project served to reaffirm the quartet's creative vitality once more. Summing up the group's career in Jazziz, writer Christopher Hoard noted that "Oregon never slows with age, never ceases to celebrate their singularity, and never misses a chance to defy commerciality. Their influence on American and international music has proven nothing less than monumental."
by Barry Alfonso
Formed Oregon in 1970; group signed with Vanguard Records, released debut album Music From Another Present Era, 1972; signed with Elektra Records, released Out of the Woodsalbum, 1978; signed with ECM, released Oregon album, 1983; recorded for a number of small labels, including VeraBra and Intuition, 1990s.
Down Beat Critic's Poll winner for Best Established Combo, 1979; Indie Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Recording, Northwest Passage,1998.
- Selected discography
- Music of Another Present Era , Vanguard, 1972.
- Distant Hills , Vanguard, 1973.
- Winter Light , Vanguard, 1974.
- (With Elvin Jones)Together , Vanguard, 1976.
- Friends , Vanguard, 1977.
- Out of the Woods , Elektra, 1978.
- Violin , Vanguard, 1978.
- Roots In The Sky , Elektra, 1979.
- Moon and Mind , Vanguard, 1979.
- Our First Record , Vanguard, 1980.
- In Performance , Elektra, 1980.
- Oregon , ECM, 1983.
- Crossing , ECM, 1985.
- Ecotopia , ECM, 1987.
- 45th Parallel , VeraBra, 1989.
- Always, Never and Forever , VeraBra, 1991.
- Troika , VeraBra, 1994.
- Beyond Words , Chesky, 1995.
- Northwest Passage , Intuition, 1997.
- Oregon in Moscow , Intuition, 2000.
- Cook, Brian and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, LP and Cassette, Penguin Books, 1992.
- Kernfeld, Barry, editor, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Grove's Dictionaries of Music, 1988.
- Larkin, Colin, editor, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 1998.
- Billboard, March 27, 1976; March 26, 1977.
- Down Beat, February 1988; December 1997.
- Musician, December 1980.
- Oregon Pages, http://www.dioxine.com/disco/oregon (August 2, 2000).
- Additional information was obtained from Oregon publicity materials.
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