What Miles Davis and Gil Evans did with “Sketches of Spain” is what Oregon accomplishes by adding a carefully arranged, full orchestra to their performance. The two-disc set features lead arias from English horn, oboe, guitar, piano, bass, djembe, bass clarinet and soprano saxophone. Composers Ralph Towner, Paul McCandless and Glen Moore provided the music for this recording, which was made in Moscow over six days in June 1999.
A groundbreaking ensemble that links jazz with world music and New Age textures, Oregon has released 21 albums during its 30-year tenure. After attending the University of Oregon, Towner and Moore had performed with folksinger Tim Hardin at the 1969 Woodstock Festival before joining Paul Winter’s Consort. McCandless, who had recently graduated from Duquesne, was already a member when Towner, Moore and percussionist Collin Walcott arrived. Like the Modern Jazz Quartet that coalesced a few decades earlier, Oregon grew out of that larger ensemble to blend various new ideas with jazz.
Oregon’s performance with the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow keeps the quartet at center stage. Lyrical solos weave in and out of eclectic compositions that offer exciting impressions. For the most part East European in character, the music provides lush harmony and stable rhythms. One interesting exception to the formula is Towner’s slow, melodramatic affair, “Free-form Piece for Orchestra and Improvisors.” Unlike the album’s orchestrated numbers, this one is actually an improvisation for conductor. The piece would have to turn out differently each time it was performed. The orchestra is divided into three sections. Each section has ten composed mini-compositions at hand, and they’re cued by hand signals from the conductor. It must keep the artists on their toes. Harmony works out well, since Towner has allowed for all the combinations. The members of Oregon stretch out over this scenario for eight and a half minutes. It works out rather well, particularly the impetus from bass clarinet and guitar.
An hour and a half altogether, Oregon’s double album captures the essence of their composed music while allowing improvised solos to flow unfettered. The rhythmic swing and dynamic groove of jazz take a back seat to the quartet’s focus on polished articulation and impressionism.
Track Listing: Collective
Round Robin; Beneath an Evening Sky; Acis and Galatea; The Templars; Anthem; All the Mornings Bring; Along the Way; Ariana; Icarus; Waterwheel; Spanish Stairs; Free-form Piece for Orchestra and Improvisors; Spirits of Another Sort; Firebat; Zephyr.
Ralph Towner- classical guitar, 12-string guitar, piano, synths; Paul McCandless- oboe, English horn, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet; Glen Moore- acoustic bass; Mark Walker- drums, doumbek, djembe, other percussion; The Great Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio in the Name of Tchaikovsky.