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Highly Opinionated

Oregon: The Art Of The Musical Canvas

By Published: August 5, 2004
But the Moscow double-album is brilliantly conceived and executed. McCandless' compositions "Round Robin" and "All That Mornings Will Bring" sound as if they were written for this kind of expanded palette. Towner's "The Templars" (once again a visit to the medieval) is magnificent, spacious and emerges with great pomp and circumstance at the hands of quartet and orchestra. Moore's "Arianna" is completely reborn at the hands of the musicians of the quartet and the orchestra. "Icarus", Towner's classic piece, which made its debut performance with the Paul Winter Consort and the symphonic orchestra at Indianapolis in 1970 comes alive with myth and legend, tone, texture and melted wax, here on Moscow. "Spirit's Of Another Sort", "Anthem" (from Towner's solo album of the same name), "Firebat" and "Zephyr" are newly recast gems, but the album also belongs to "Free-form Piece For Orchestra and Improvisers".

Towner had cast this composition in an unusual form - as an improvisation for the conductor of the orchestra! So, the piece - divided into three sections, each with ten 'cels' of music of various length 'that are cued by hand signals form the conductor'. The fact that the maestro Garanian was able to feel the sensibilities of the musicians - both his own and those of the quartet - speaks volumes for his sensitivity. The piece also marks the triumphant bridge between compositional material and its imaginative interpretation that sets the music of Oregon quite apart from most other music in this modern era of music made in a western dialect, so to speak. There are other landmarks too. Towner, McCandless and Moore are also at the top of their form and in Mark Walker, Oregon had finally found a percussion to glide with them into the future. For all these reasons and more, Oregon In Moscow is a miraculous record, worthy of the four Grammy awards it was nominated for in 2000.

And so the expedition that is Oregon continuesï In August last year the band performed for four days at Yoshi's in the U.S. This spectacular performance became an extended set on the album of the same name. It was only the third live album by the band and one that will stand as their finest live gigs by a jazz quartet in recent times.

Listening to the record I am reminded of a performance by the sitar maestro, Ravi Shankar where the renowned Indian painter M.F. Hussain painted a large canvas as Shankar performed. This was one of the most unusual performances by two legendary artists. I believe that this performance by Oregon comes just as close to that memorable event. Like they do on most of their musical expeditions - both live and captured on record - Oregon use their ingenuity and musicianship to paint a canvas of their journey through the art of music. Through the feline grace of "Pounce" that opens the set, you can 'see' the instrumentation - which introduces Towner's new frame guitar - weaving in and out of the composition as it lopes and leaps through musical foliage. Towner also does a superb turn with his legendary sketches, such as "The Prowler", 'Distant Hills' and the humorous "Short n' Stout", while Moore's "Crocodile Romancing" returns composer and the interpreting musicians to their 'wild side'! The glorious set closes with a timeless performance of an equally timeless favorite, "Witchi-Tai-To".

The applause for this and every Oregon project is still echoing in my ears! Ever the sensitive 'historian', Towner comments of this latest in the Oregon odyssey: "When playing in concert for a large audience, a different phenomenon occurs. There is an infusion of collective energy and attention that magnifies the senses of everyone involved, and often, as a piece unfolds and tells a story, the musicians and listeners reach a 'zone' in which they seem suspended together on every breath and nuance'. This, to me is why the music of Oregon is a magical experience. It is like a canvas of sound that remains wet and vivid long after the sonic moments have long passed!

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