Oregon: Out of the Woods (1978)
This album can be judged by its cover, an illustration by David Wilcox depicting an idealized old-growth forest. Scattered amongst the too-perfect trees and well-pruned shrubs are various oversized acoustic instruments sharing a well-manicured lawn with a gray squirrel, a curious raccoon, a startled owl and a pileated woodpecker. It's all pleasant greens bordering warm shades of brown and yellow. Well-placed, softly-shaped boulders invite you to sit and relax. The owl and the raccoon stare back at you, as if in anticipation of your next move. It's a place you want to be, and Oregon's music takes you there.
Oregon was Glen Moore on acoustic bass, Paul McCandless on horns, Ralph Towner on acoustic guitar and piano, and Collin Walcott on percussion and sitar. Walcott died as the result of an automobile accident in 1984. All of the members once played together in the Paul Winter Consort, an ensemble originally formed in 1967. Winter reportedly is an early world-music pioneer and seminal New Age musician, but I've never heard anything by him or the Consort. The members of Oregon split off from the Consort around 1970, releasing their debut album, Music of Another Present Era, in 1972. (This was not actually their first effort, an album eventually called Our First Record which was recorded in 1970, but not released until 1980.)
Oregon is neither New Age nor world music, at least in the contemporary sense. To my ears, the group's more readily identifiable influences are the repertoire of the classical chamber ensemble, the collective improvisation of a traditional jazz quartet, and the rhythmic and tonal structure of the music of India. All four members are talented performers, each contributes compositionally, and the ensemble playing is often exquisite. On this album the melodically inventive McCandless plays oboe, English horn and bass clarinet (no saxophones or flutes), setting the tone throughout. Equally important are Walcott's colorful contributions on sitar and tabla, Towner's lovely piano work, and Moore's imaginative support on bass.
Some of Oregon's more energetic moments remind me of Weather Report's more laid-back output. Sometimes I also hear the woodwind chamber music of Samuel Barber or maybe even Carl Nielsen. I am also reminded of My Goal's Beyond, the wonderful 1970 album by John McLaughlin. I bought Out of the Woods when it was released on vinyl in 1978 but I didn't really give it a chance to sink in. It sat on the shelf, largely ignored, for about twenty years. What a mistake that was, but how nice it was to eventually discover a great "new release in my own collection. The album was first released on CD in 1992. These compositions and their performances are a delight to hear for any serious fan of 20th Century music.
This release will be soon be reissued in a double set, along with Roots in the Sky (1979).
Track Listing: Yellow Bell; Fall 77; Reprise; Cane Fields; Dance to the Morning Star; Vision of a Dancer; Story Telling; Waterwheel; Witchi-Tai-To.
Personnel: Glen Moore: bass; Paul McCandless: oboe, English horn, bass clarinet; Ralph Towner: classical guitar, twelve-string guitar, piano, Flugelhorn, percussion; Collin Walcott: percussion, sitar, tabla, guitar.