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Oregon - Ecotopia CD (album) cover




Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.97 | 20 ratings

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4 stars With the tragic death of founding member and tabla/percussionist Collin Walcott in an accident just prior to the release of "Crossing," it did not look like Oregon would continue: they had been a continuous unit (to say nothing of close friends) for over 15 years, and the other members were devasted by Collin's death.

A year or so later, Oregon held a tribute concert to Collin in NYC that I was privileged to attend. (I have been an Oregon fan for over 25 years.) Many musicians and small ensembles played, leading up to a reunion of the three surviving members, plus a percussionist they had chosen to "represent" Collin and play with them that evening. By the time their set ended, Trilok Gurtu - a master tabla player and percussionist - had succeeded in turning even the most skeptical person in the audience into a believer: the first question asked of the band was not "if" they were going to record again, but "when."

Surely enough, in 1987, Oregon released its first album with Gurtu, "Ecotopia." And it ushered in two new aspects of Oregon. The first was a more direct use of synthesizers; although Towner had used them on two previous albums, they were used mostly for "flavoring." On Ecotopia, they are front and center in two compositions (Twice Around the Sun, Ecotopia) and distinct elements of two others (Leather Cats, Song of the Morrow). The second was the introduction of a quasi-standard trap set, partially designed by Gurtu, which gave parts of certain compositions a "harder," more "standard" jazz feel. [N.B. The set consists of a mini-hihat, mini-snare, and a triangular unit with three skins, a "bass" skin and two "toms." Gurtu plays this entire contraption while on one knee - no mean feat. And because there is no bass drum per se (i.e., no kick pedal), he has to compensate by using a stick on the "bass" skin. The effect - especially live - is truly extraordinary.]

Ecotopia is the perfect mixture of Oregon compositions. Here are the newer, uptempo, synth-based compositions (Twice Around the Sun, Ecotopia), the former of which also introduces Gurtu's "quasi-trap" set in a wonderfully forceful way; the guitar-based compositions (Innocente, Zephyr, ReDial), the second of which is a gorgeous duet with soprano sax and the latter of which has some beautiful solo work from Towner; and the free-form, improv jazz compositions (WBAI, Leather Cats, Song of the Morrow), the second of which is centered around one of Moore's coolest bass figures, and the latter two of which feature tasteful and appropriate synth atmospheres. Throughout all of them, McCandless is his usual brilliant self, contributing the melodies - some sweet, some strange - that form the center of Oregon's music.

In my opinion, Ecotopia is the group's best post-Walcott album, and among my favorite "progressive jazz" albums of all time.

Note that the 4-star rating is strictly an "internal" rating vis-a-vis Oregon's albums; it would be near impossible to rate Oregon's albums against any "standard" prog rock.

maani | 4/5 |


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