Oregon at Birdland
By E. Joyce Glasgow
Photo Credits/Copyrights: E. Joyce Glasgow, www.artsandculturescene.com
Oregon celebrated their 41st anniversary as a band with a five-night engagement at Birdland in New York City, February 15th- 19th, 2011. I’ve been listening to them for all of those 41 years, never tiring of their music, as it seems so for many of their other fans, who were in the audience on the night I went to hear them. They blend influences of jazz, classical and world music and after all these years, continue to perform music that is fresh, eloquent, poetic, refined, sensitive and complex and that is sensuous, sophisticated, spontaneous and smart. Their strong affinity for improvising always brings new dimensions to their music, leading with open minds into adventurous spaces. These musicians are some of the finest performing today and are a joy to hear.
The members of the quartet are Ralph Towner (six string and twelve string guitars, piano, keyboard synthesizer, guitar synthesizer), Paul McCandless (oboe, English horn, soprano and sopranino sax, bass clarinet, pennywhistles), Glen Moore (acoustic bass), Mark Walker (trap drums, hand drums, synthesizer drum pads and various other percussion instruments).
While each band member contributes original music to the mix, most of the compositions played at this particular gig were original pieces by Ralph Towner, a really prolific composer, plus one funky, country-ish, fast paced duet for bass and drums, Hoe Down and the catchy, bluesy Pepe' Linque, both by Glen Moore and Witchi-Tai-To, one of the band’s signature pieces, an American Indian chant based composition by the late, Portland, Oregon musician, Jim Pepper, played as an encore for both sets. The two sets included one purely improvisational piece in each. I found that the first set improv felt like it was traveling into inner space and the second set improv by contrast sounded like a trip into outer space. Towner’s original pieces, which many times sound anthemic and sometimes cinematic, are melodically lyrical, beautiful, poetic, lush and jazzy, accented reflectively by his guitar and piano. McCandless, one of the only jazz oboe and English horn jazz improvisers around adds a soaring, poignant, chamber like touch on those instruments plus a deep, undercurrent on bass clarinet and a fluid powerful, assertive, grounded sound on saxes, aided by his mastery of circular breathing technique. Walker adds a variety of creative colors and rhythmic dynamism on percussion and Moore has a playful, rich, resonant, versatile approach to his bass playing.
Some of Towner’s notable pieces performed were from their two most recent CD’s, entitled Prime and their most recent, In Stride. Compositions included the swinging, jazzy, The Glide; On the Horizon; Anthem; Aeolus, featuring a beautiful piano solo; the waltz like, As She Sleeps; the upbeat, Ravenswood; another favorite, the catchy, uplifting, soaring If; a haunting, soulful duet for twelve string guitar and English horn, Song for a Friend; one of my favorites, the gentle and sweet, Green and Golden; the lively, joyful Doff, featuring a terrific, wild and raucous drum solo and an older composition, Vessel, which is atmospheric, with an underlying Latin rhythm played by Walker on synth drum pads, sounding like East Indian ceramic drum or water jug.
Oregon’s performance at Birdland was very satisfying and moving. If you ever have an opportunity to hear these very special musicians playing live together, definitely do so.
For more information about Oregon visit www.oregonband.com.
For more information about what’s going on at Birdland visit www.birdlandjazz.com.