A mystical experience
R. Hutchinson | a world ruled by fossil fuels and fossil minds | 09/06/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This 1983 self-titled album by Oregon, the group's first for the ECM label, is stunningly beautiful -- one of their best. (Over the years I wore out two cassettes of this album before the more durable CD came along.) You may think it improbable, given that this album marked their first use of synthesizers, while Oregon's reputation was made by developing all-acoustic "east/west chamber jazz" as a counterpoint to the prevalent 1970s electric fusion sound. But it is one of their best, nonetheless, and my speculation as to why is that it marked a fresh start for the group, and a fresh sound. To my ears, Oregon had lost the magic of their early Vanguard recordings by the late '70s, and their Elektra albums (OUT OF THE WOODS, ROOTS IN THE SKY) sound uninspired. Then, after a several year hiatus, they returned with this one, featuring Ralph Towner's Prophet 5 synthesizer.
The center and high point of the album is the long track 3, "Taos." The shimmering textures of the synthesizer are used masterfully to create a utopian vision of great clarity and power. Oregon may never have done anything so psychedelic or mystical before or since. To go out on a limb with interpretation, the surrounding tracks ("The Beacon" and "Beside a Brook") summon up the harmony of non-human nature, and lead to and away from this flash of cosmic harmony -- the human joined seamlessly with the rest of nature.
The album opens with a fantastic piece by Towner, "The Rapids." He plays both piano and the Prophet 5. The next two pieces are attributed to "Oregon," which usually indicates an improvisation. If these pieces are improvised, it is improvisation on a very high level, and they achieve a rare level of transcendence. Compare them to the clunky improvisations on DISTANT HILLS (1973), one of Oregon's finest albums from ten years earlier, and you'll hear the dramatic improvement. (You would never know this from the AMG review of this album. Their reviewer, who you can usually count on to praise everything to the skies, even the most mediocre of music, obviously didn't "get it.") Towner plays only the Prophet 5 on "The Beacon," and both classical guitar and synthesizer on "Taos." Track 4 is a Paul McCandless composition, "Beside a Brook," and track 5 is a Glenn Moore composition, "Arianna," with Colin Walcott's only sitar playing on the album -- on the other tracks he plays percussion. Tracks 6 and 7 are group-attributed pieces, "There Was No Moon That Night," and "Skyline," a short piece which features Moore's bass. The last piece on the album, "Impending Bloom," is by Glenn Moore, a whimsical, upbeat number celebrating the imminent birth of his child, with wordless vocals by Colin Walcott. The mood of this one is so different from the rest that I usually don't program it -- it's quite good, but just doesn't fit with the sublime mystical experience of the rest.
It strikes me as ironic that the album cover is the hip painter flinging a disc of orange paint at a wall. If any ECM recording ever deserved a serenely lovely nature scene of the sort the label is renowned for -- perhaps including a glimpse of Taos Pueblo -- this is the one!"
Stellar musicians, mesmerizing music.
Far Lefkas | Balto.-WDC metro area | 10/21/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Before our self-styled culture vultures & Fachmaenner smacked us with "New Age" & "ambient" to describe music, there was Oregon. Tight folk melodies & ripping jazz improvs. I think the first tune I ever heard by Oregon was Tide Pool.Later, when I needed more than what I heard on the local jazz stations, I actually bought albums. The Oregon CD was one of my first CDs.It's standard Oregon fare, although if you connect the title Impending Bloom with the synth siren @the end, you'll easily wind up with goosebumps.I'll never understand why Oregon music doesn't show up in more movie soundtracks: listen to The Rapids.I have Roots in the Sky & Out of the Woods on CD. The two releases by Oregon alumni that I'd like on CD are Towner's (& Abercrombie's) Five Years Later & Introducing Glen Moore. You can't go wrong with Oregon, together or apart."