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on August 16, 2000
A lot is said of Oregon's recordings for both Vanguard and Elektra in the 1970's, and for very good reason. They managed to create a style of music that managed to be simultaneously fresh in scope and timeless, delicate yet challenging. Along the way they produced some remarkable albums, many of which are essential to the music lover. Sadly such classics as In Concert, Roots in the Sky, or Out of the Woods are no longer available.
It seems to me that their style, in a sort of continuous evolution, made great leaps with each label to which they were signed. The Vanguard recordings reflected a more experimental approach while the Elektra ones showcased their exceptional compositional skills. Not that either sound was superior, just different.
Oregon was their first recording for ECM and seemed to mark yet another direction in their style. I believe this was their first time including synthesizers in their music and it is done in much the same way that Ralph Towner used them on his excellent Blue Sun, as a means of supporting and expanding the music, in essence "updating" their music. I don't think Oregon will ever sound truly modern, thankfully.
There's a remarkable balance here between their signature free form improvs and structured material. There's also a nice distribution of compositional chores which allows for a more varied sound. Each contribution of a particular composer also ranks among their individual best as well: Ralph Towner's "The Rapids", Paul McCandless' "Beside a Brook", and Glen Moore's "Arianna" are all standouts.
I would easily put Oregon among Distant Hills or Out of the Woods as their most essential recordings. Thank goodness it's still available.
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on September 6, 2004
This 1983 self-titled album by Oregon, the group's first for the ECM label, is stunningly beautiful -- one of their best. (Over the years I wore out two cassettes of this album before the more durable CD came along.) You may think it improbable, given that this album marked their first use of synthesizers, while Oregon's reputation was made by developing all-acoustic "east/west chamber jazz" as a counterpoint to the prevalent 1970s electric fusion sound. But it is one of their best, nonetheless, and my speculation as to why is that it marked a fresh start for the group, and a fresh sound. To my ears, Oregon had lost the magic of their early Vanguard recordings by the late '70s, and their Elektra albums (OUT OF THE WOODS, ROOTS IN THE SKY) sound uninspired. Then, after a several year hiatus, they returned with this one, featuring Ralph Towner's Prophet 5 synthesizer.

The center and high point of the album is the long track 3, "Taos." The shimmering textures of the synthesizer are used masterfully to create a utopian vision of great clarity and power. Oregon may never have done anything so psychedelic or mystical before or since. To go out on a limb with interpretation, the surrounding tracks ("The Beacon" and "Beside a Brook") summon up the harmony of non-human nature, and lead to and away from this flash of cosmic harmony -- the human joined seamlessly with the rest of nature.

The album opens with a fantastic piece by Towner, "The Rapids." He plays both piano and the Prophet 5. The next two pieces are attributed to "Oregon," which usually indicates an improvisation. If these pieces are improvised, it is improvisation on a very high level, and they achieve a rare level of transcendence. Compare them to the clunky improvisations on DISTANT HILLS (1973), one of Oregon's finest albums from ten years earlier, and you'll hear the dramatic improvement. (You would never know this from the AMG review of this album. Their reviewer, who you can usually count on to praise everything to the skies, even the most mediocre of music, obviously didn't "get it.")

Towner plays only the Prophet 5 on "The Beacon," and both classical guitar and synthesizer on "Taos." Track 4 is a Paul McCandless composition, "Beside a Brook," and track 5 is a Glenn Moore composition, "Arianna," with Colin Walcott's only sitar playing on the album -- on the other tracks he plays percussion. Tracks 6 and 7 are group-attributed pieces, "There Was No Moon That Night," and "Skyline," a short piece which features Moore's bass. The last piece on the album, "Impending Bloom," is by Glenn Moore, a whimsical, upbeat number celebrating the imminent birth of his child, with wordless vocals by Colin Walcott. The mood of this one is so different from the rest that I usually don't program it -- it's quite good, but just doesn't fit with the sublime mystical experience of the rest.

It strikes me as ironic that the album cover is the hip painter flinging a disc of orange paint at a wall. If any ECM recording ever deserved a serenely lovely nature scene of the sort the label is renowned for -- perhaps including a glimpse of Taos Pueblo -- this is the one!

I am happy to see that ECM has reissued this great disc in their Touchstone series -- don't miss it!
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on August 18, 2012
Firstly,I have to say I love the music of Oregon. Oregon was one of the leading improvisational groups of its day, blending Indian and Western classical music with jazz, folk and avant-garde elements. Oregon made challenging but mostly melodic music. Their best stuff was probably recorded in the 1970s for the Vanguard label. Distant Hills (1973) is probably my favorite Oregon album. Oregon (1983) was their eponymous first album for ECM and I bought it on vinyl in the mid-1980s. It was one of the final recordings the band did with multi-instrumentalist Collin Walcott; he was killed in a car accident a year later. I have just purchased the CD version and it still sounds great. The idiots at the All Music Guide give this album 1.5 stars, so its not a record that everyone appreciates. However my 1996 print version of the same Guide gave it 5 stars, how times change. In my opinion, Oregon made great music and they are still worth listening to.

My only real complaint is the cheap, cardboard packaging. ECM's vinyl albums used to be things of beauty, their CD reissues are not. ECM should bring back the traditional jewel case.
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on October 21, 2002
Before our self-styled culture vultures & Fachmaenner smacked us with "New Age" & "ambient" to describe music, there was Oregon. Tight folk melodies & ripping jazz improvs. I think the first tune I ever heard by Oregon was Tide Pool.
Later, when I needed more than what I heard on the local jazz stations, I actually bought albums. The Oregon CD was one of my first CDs.
It's standard Oregon fare, although if you connect the title Impending Bloom with the synth siren @the end, you'll easily wind up with goosebumps.
I'll never understand why Oregon music doesn't show up in more movie soundtracks: listen to The Rapids.
I have Roots in the Sky & Out of the Woods on CD. The two releases by Oregon alumni that I'd like on CD are Towner's (& Abercrombie's) Five Years Later & Introducing Glen Moore. You can't go wrong with Oregon, together or apart.
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on August 4, 2009
ECM is a quality company, they care about how their products sound. Some record companies believe that the way to get people to listen to their products is to make them as loud as possible through certain mastering techniques such as massive dynamic range compression. Not ECM. This disk has been handled the way an Oregon cd should be handled: with care and respect. If you are at all concerned about sound quality rest assured that this is a quality disk.
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on March 9, 2010
It seems that the great fusion band has given itself to noodling... There are only two listenable, engaging compositions on this album - The Rapids and By The Brook, which are classic Oregon - lyrical, expansive, melodic. The rest of the tracks (I won't call them songs) are little more than experiments in atonality, which exist on every Oregon album, but not in such great numbers. Usually there is more variety - you get three or four lyrical, beautiful group pieces, a couple of equally pretty duets, a piano or guitar solo piece, a jazzier tune, and a couple of noodlers which go nowhere. Well, this album is jam-packed with the latter, unfortunately. I am not against dissonance, you find some of it in many excellent Oregon tunes, but unless you love dissonance for its own sake, there is way too much of it here. Probably the worst Oregon album.
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