Oregon in Montreal, February 22, 2007
When McCandless first emerged on the scene he set the stage for others to bring double reed instruments into an improvising context. Live, his remarkable technique never overshadows his strength as a solo player whose primary concern is creating a narrative. His circular breathing on "Distant Hills permitted seamless phrasing, drawing no attention to itself until one realized that he'd been playing a phrase or holding a single note uninterrupted for well over a minute. McCandless' less conventional instruments have always been a fundamental part of Oregon's complexion, but one of his most impressive and exciting solos of the night was on Towner's "Doff. The tenor saxophone may be a relatively new addition for McCandless, but he's as accomplished on it as he is on instruments he's been playing for far more years.
An unshakable anchor throughout, when it came time to the one non-Towner piece of the evening (not including a collective improv that led into "Doff ), Moore made a strong case for an artist's music reflecting his personality. A lighthearted jokester, Moore's own "Hoedown was an extended and often comical duet with Walker that found the two musically joined at the hip. Moore's writing has always been idiosyncratic and often humorous in a skewed away while remaining unequivocally thematic. With a hummable melody book-ending the tune, the improvised core of "Hoedown was the definition of democratic interplay and musical conversation. Moore utilizes a variety of innovative bass playing techniques that defy description when heard on record but become much clearer when seen in performance.
It's infectious to see that a group this long in the tooth can still have so much fun together. Everyone was clearly having a great time, and the eye contactwhether acknowledging a passing phrase, accent or grooveclosed the distance between group and audience. Walker's ability to make quick choices with respect to using the kit and/or hand percussion brought new life to older tunes like Towner's "Redial, from Ecotopia (ECM, 1987).
Ending the set with the energetic and uplifting "Doff, the group left no question about an encore as the audience gave a well-deserved standing ovation, clapping, whistling and hollering so loudly that the musicians were clearly taken aback. Still a regular part of the repertoire after nearly 35 years, Jim Pepper's classic "Witchi-Tai-To continues to inspire fresh and compelling musical rhetoric. The group has recorded the tune many times over the yearsfirst on Winter Light (Vanguard, 1974), then on Out of the Woods (Elektra, 1978) and, most recently, on Live at Yoshi's (Intuition, 2002)but its ability to honor the tune's spirit while interpreting it anew each time is demonstrative of both its uncanny telepathy and its open-ended yet focused approach to everything it plays.
But one encore just wasn't enough. The enthusiastic audience simply would not let Oregon leave without one more tuneTowner's gentle "Green and Golden from Beyond Words (Chesky, 1995). It was the perfect ending to an evening on which Montreal's loud and clear message was that Oregon must not wait this long to return again. Based on the group's equally enthusiastic response to the audience, it's a sure bet they got the message and will be coming back againsoon.