Oregon – Roots In The Sky – Electra Records (1979)/Speakers Corner Records (2019), 45:03 ****1/2:
(Paul McCandless – clarinet, English horn, oboe; Ralph Towner – flugelhorn, guitar, piano, percussion; Collin Walcott – guitar, percussion; Glen Moore – bass)
Speakers Corner Records has released a re-mastered 180-gram vinyl of the 1979 release, Roots In The Sky by Oregon. It has always been difficult to categorize the music of this band. With a core lineup of Paul McCandless (reeds), Ralph Towner (guitar, piano), Collin Walcott (percussion) and Glen Moore, the group met as members of the Paul Winter’s Consort. After recording several albums on the Vanguard label, they signed with Electra Records. This represented (along with their 1978 album, Out Of The Woods) an opportunity to access a higher level of studio production and distribution. Side 1 opens with the propulsive, “June Bug”. One of four Towner compositions, it kicks off with furious guitars chords, set against percussion (Colin Walcott). McCandless takes the lead on clarinet which is a pastoral counterpoint to the funky jam. “Vessel” initiates with loping exotic drumming that establishes a free-jazz driving pulse. Towner switches to piano with punctuated repeat chords. His piano solo/lead is lyrical with jazzy inflection. The band members nimbly coalesce around the piano and bassist Glen Moore shines on his solo. On “Sierra Leone” a musical tapestry is intermingled with African motifs. Oregon manages to combine world influences in genre-combining arrangements. “Ogden Road” delves into the ruminative, melodic ambience with sensitivity and an acoustic coloration. The classical influences (especially piano and English horn) and syncopated tempo contribute to a swirling aural landscape. There is even a Latin undercurrent.
Side 2 is a powerful, diverse musical statement. “House Of Wax” begins with a jazzy piano vamp. In contrast, a sitar is added to create an unlikely blend of jazz and mysticism. The texture is augmented by studio effects and the overall free-form approach is hypnotic. A more contemporary vibe inhabits “Hungry Heart’ with reed instrumentation, guitar bass and percussion.. There is a crisp acoustic guitar run and potent, rhythmic play from the band. A concise “Orrington’s Escape” is crisply executed with occasional atonal intonation. The final pair of songs are emblematic of the quartet’s dynamic musical vision. “Roots In The Sky” is hard charging and bass-driven. It is countered by sitar and flugelhorn for a wild mosaic of sound. The layering of horns is especially compelling. The wide sweeping musical influence of Oregon can be heard on “Longing, So Long”. The group jams with pulsating intensity augmented by a collage of instrumental accents.
Oregon suffered a great loss with the death of Collin Walcott in 1984. They persevered to record for another 30 years, but never achieved the creative or critical apex of their earlier career. Speakers Corner Records’ vibrant 180-gram upgrade is a testament to their under-appreciated legacy.
Side 1: June Bug; Vessel; Sierra Leone; Ogden Road
Side 2: House Of Wax; Hungry Heart; Orrington’s Escape; Roots In The Sky; Longing, So Long
More information at Speakers Corner Website: