Oregon - Our First Record (1970)
Album: Our First Record
Label: Vanguard/Universe (UV 042 (VMD 79432))
Genre: Jazz Rock, Psychedelic, Experimental, Indian Raga, World Fusion
One of the earliest and finest exponents of world jazz, Oregon began life in 1970 as an offshoot of the Paul Winter Consort, in which the group's original members had played. From the beginning, the band eschewed most jazz conventions. Percussionist Collin Walcott played tabla, sitar, and dulcimer, among other instruments, but did not use a trap set; bassist Glen Moore doubled on clarinet, viola, and piano, and its front line was formed by a double-reedist (Paul McCandless) and an acoustic guitarist (Ralph Towner). The band's music differed from much of what had heretofore been considered jazz. The concept of blues and swing was given a much-reduced prominence in favor of other, less literal forms of tonal and rhythmic organization. For example, Indian ragas would occasionally replace chord changes, and talas would supplant swing time. The group's dynamic approach was quieter than typical by jazz standards, and their overall aesthetic somewhat introspective. Improvisation was central to the band's work, however, and in this sense their music is most firmly in the jazz tradition. Oregon's music is characterized by a heightened method of ensemble interaction, a rapt attention to timbral contrast, and an openness to any and all cultural influences. After Walcott's death in a car accident in 1984, the group disbanded for a time, before eventually replacing him with percussionist Trilok Gurtu. - Chris Kelsey, AMG.
#1: This is indeed our first record as a quartet. In the summer 1970, very soon after recording "Road" with the Winter Consort we were given the opportunity spend six weeks recording in the Los Angeles home of Cyrus and Renais Faryar (close friends of Collin's from the mid sixties when he was a UCLA). The combined energies of Cyrus and Renais, Ron Jacobs, Tom Rounds, Tom Driscoll and Peter Piladian-to name just a few-had miracul ously managed to get what considered almost a state-of-the-art 8^track recording studio built into the Faryer's House. - CD Notes.
#2: This wonderful album was recorded in 1970, before Oregon's "official" first release, "Music of Another Present Era," but not released until 1980. It was in print on vinyl for about five minutes, but then disappeared. It's a marvelous record, and a must-own for fans of Oregon's early sound or anyone interested in acoustic music that seeks inspiration in a wide range of cultures and sources. There are spirited versions of songs that would appear of later albums -- "Canyon Song," "Margueritte," and "Mary's New Bloom" played with such confidence and collective empathy it's hard to believe this was the tentative first recording by this band. One of the gems of this album is "Aheer," a 7-minute Collin Walcott composition, with Walcott on sitar, that stands as one of the group's best recordings: Oregon's ensemble sound is fully arrived on this track, with Towner's incisive classical guitar dancing with Walcott's sitar so deftly they sound like one player with four hands. (Walcott, the group's sitar player and percussionist, who died in a car accident in the 1980s, didn't write very many melodies, alas, but they're almost all poignant and lovely, so discovering another major composition by him is a major event.) Only one track sounds dated, the "space" track, "Molecular," which has some studio gimmickry but the rest sounds as timeless as Bach. Few groups of any kind were as articulate, subtly emotional, and wide ranging in its influences and as swinging as this. - Stephen Silberman, Amazon.
#3: As the title suggests, this IS Oregon's first record, recorded back in 1970 but never released (on LP) until a decade later, in 1980. I have no idea as to how long the 1980 LP sat dormant before being released on CD, but it must have been quite a while. As one who has followed the careers of both Paul Winter (and his Consort) and the Oregon group, this album is a very special find for me. It was recorded at roughly the same time as was "Road," the first Winter Consort album that included these Oregon musicians, as well as Winter and David Darling, on cello. This group would go on to record one other Winter Consort album, "Icarus," before Oregon established its own identity on a series of albums for Vanguard,and, later, Elektra-Asylum and ECM (although Paul McCandless worked with the Winter Consort both before "Road" and after "Icarus," most notably in "Common Ground" and "Canyon"). Perhaps the most amazing aspects, to me, of "Our First Record" are the facts that Oregon as a group had established its basic sound - its vision - as early as it did and that this vision was so uniquely different from that of the early Winter Consort. The liner notes, as well as some additional web-reading, suggest that the basic sound evolved during jam sessions while with the Consort, and that it all came together during studio work spread over six weeks in 1970. Whatever one chooses to call Oregon's music (world jazz fusion, acoustic fusion, "the first of the new-age groups," among others, have been applied), it is immediately distinctive, both for its unusual combination of instrumental timbres and for its adventurous range of material. It can groove, as good jazz must, as in the bass work of Glen Moore in "Collin's Delight" and the piano jazz work of Ralph Towner in "Margueritte." Or it can feature the lyrical (and often stratospheric) oboe work of Paul McCandless ("Canyon Song" and "Jade Vision"). And Collin Walcott's sitar and tabla work give the group its "world music" flavor. This is very much a "studio production" in light of the amount of multi-tracking that appears. (Particularly intriguing is "Recuerdos," in which Paul McCandless appears to be playing a trio of oboes in the background, beneath the bluesy work of Ralph Towner on guitar and Glen Moore on bass). But neither this, nor the group's apologies (in the liner notes) about the quality of the 1970 sound, can detract from what is a superb first effort. In fact, I found nothing about which to quibble as far as the sound is concerned; it's really very fine, and no apologies are required. (The only drawback, and it is a very minor one that doesn't affect my own 5-star rating for the CD, is its 47:14 running time, due to its LP origins.) A few of these tracks (no.'s 3, 5 and 6) are duplicated on "Oregon: Best of The Vanguard Years" (which, for some, means the best of Oregon, as Collin Walcott was lost to the group before they established their ECM career). But, for those who - like me - are interested in just how quickly the group's sound evolved, "Our First Album" is a must-have. With this very first Oregon album "safely home," now all this particular compleatist needs is the CD release of those three early Winter Consort albums (two with McCandless and one with the full Oregon group) on the A&M label: "The Winter Consort," "Something in the Wind" and "Road"; these remain major gaps in the shared catalogs of these amazing musicians. In the meantime, "Our First Album" will tide me over nicely, thank you very much! - Bob Zeidler, Amazon.
1. Canyon Song 2:47
2. Full Circle 4:42
3. Japan - Charles St. Melancholy 3:35
4. Collin's Delite 3:42
5. Cry Of The Peacock - Coral 6:25
6. Mary's New Bloom 2:17
7. Aheer 7:07
8. Recuerdos 3:41
9. L'Histoire du Farm Suite 3:51
10. Jade Vision 3:20
11. Molecular 1:34
12. Margueritte 3:09
13. Entrez Devotée Compagne 1:01