Jazz Band Oregon Comes to Namesake Coast
(Lincoln City, Oregon) – The pleasantly cerebral jazz quartet returns to the state it was named after. Oregon comes home, more or less, and comes to the Oregon coast on April 6 and 7, performing at Lincoln City's Cascade Head Music Festival.
This gleaming, often surreal outfit climbed out of the Paul Winter Consort in the 1970’s, settling into a highly organic and distinctive form of jazz that combined free jazz, pop, classical and hints of bebop with multiple cultural influences. Some 35 years later, the band has dozens of albums under its belt, including the myriad solo projects by members and their even more diverse collaborations.
The sheer breadth of these varied works is breathtaking, covering all forms of jazz imaginable and yet-to-be imagined. A key to this is that the members are multi-instrumentalists themselves, often utilizing unusual axes to help create even more unusual hybrids.
Paul McCandless plays a variety of wind instruments, including oboe and bass clarinet, often anchoring the melodic and bebop elements of their sound. Ralph Towner plays trumpet, guitar, keyboards and even French horn on occasion, and is well known for his many solo albums in the 70’s on the ECM label. Glen Moore plays upright bass – and is a former Lincoln City resident, and still appears fairly often at gigs in the Portland area.
Moore, Towner and McCandless are the founding members of the band, along with the eye-popping multi-percussionist and sitar player Collin Walcott, whose legendary use of paired down drumsets and exotic percussion from other countries created a startlingly unique sound in the 70’s. Walcott died in a vehicle accident in the 80’s, and since 1995 Mark Walker has been the band’s fulltime percussionist.
Free improvisation, often like that of Ornette Coleman, has been a trademark of the band since its beginning. Unlike Coleman, however, dissonance wasn’t so much the point, as the use of all acoustic instruments created a kind of woodsy, earthy sound with their calculated free-for-all approach. It was cerebral yet truly pleasant, and unlike many forms of jazz, did not revolve around swing. Oregon has often had a world beat element to it, and sometimes even a slight rock backbeat (although more like jazz-rock mixed with classical chamber music than the jazz-rock fusion made popular by the likes of Mahavishnu Orchestra).
It all began in the sixties, when Moore and Towner met at the University of Oregon in Eugene. (20 years later, another avant garde figure would emerge from that school: King Crimson guitarist/bassist Trey Gunn). Hence the eventual name of the band. Although it was McCandless who suggested the band change its name from "Thyme-Music of Another Present Era" to Oregon in their 1972 debut.
In the mid-60’s, Moore and Towner bounced around Europe, then New York by the late 60’s, eventually performing with Tim Hardin at the ‘69 Woodstock Festival. After Winter's band, by 1972, Oregon was born and signed to Vanguard Records (although their actual initial album was shelved until its release in the 80’s).
A high point arose in the band’s career in the late 70’s when their acoustic experimentalism brought them to fiddling with musical impressionism with standout albums such as “Roots in the Sky” and “Out of the Woods.” There, sophisticated polyrhythms and deeply layered instrumental arrangements were the ground floor for gorgeous yet seriously complex melodies.
In later years, the band was unfortunately saddled with being a precursor to the decidedly less intellectual New Age musical movement, though it probably was true they did influence it to some degree with their mixing of world cultures in a soft textured environment.
2007 saw a resurgence of the band with the album “1000 Kilometers” – a radiant concoction of their usual bent towards the unusual.
The title track has a Bill Evans feel - a big influence on Towner. Light, lilting piano bounces with a hint of darkness, as cymbals crash softly beneath, and McCandless’ oboe croons somewhat mournfully above. There are gleefully upbeat moments too, where the composition gives way to a kind of freewheeling elegance and giggly joy. It's pure Oregon delight.
The song “Deep Six” combines a bebop feel with a slinky latin beat – a mighty and interesting accomplishment, but Oregon is full of plenty of surprises. The notes are in a jazzy hurry, while the background and backbeat are sexy and complex – like dating a super model who also happens to be a brilliant scientist. It’s intensely satisfying on a multitude of emotional and intellectual levels. All, of course, is done with their unique sense of the organic.
There’s a decent bit of Oregon coast connection to the band Oregon. Moore lived in Lincoln City for many years, and eventually the owner of the Driftwood Mac music store settled into that house afterwards. He told BeachConnection.net there was a definite “artistic vibe’ to that home.
April 6. Reception to meet the jazz quartet "Oregon" at 7:30 P.M., at the Lincoln City Cultural Center as a part of the Cascade Head Music Festival. The cost for this champagne and dessert reception is $25. Lincoln City, Oregon. 541-994-5333.
April 7. OREGON – band from 70’s and 80’s, sometimes known as the precursors to the new age music movement, but in actuality they were a free jazz, improv-based group. The quartet performs at the Lincoln City Cultural Center, as a part of the Cascade Head Music Festival, at 7:30 P.M. $25 for reserved seating and $20 for general admission. Lincoln City, Oregon. 541-994-5333.