Friday, August 24, 2007

Recording in the Woods and the Sky

It’s dangerous to ascribe new musical paradigms to one artist or group. There’s no denying, however, that Oregon was one of the first groups to explore the nexus of jazz, classical and folk musics with ideas endemic to the music of India, Brazil and other cultures abroad. Although Oregon’s entire discography has been available on CD at different times, a number of titles are currently out of print. Out of the Woods / Roots in the Sky is a welcome remastered reissue of the group’s first two discs for Elektra, originally released in 1978 and 1979.

Signing with Elektra after an eight-year run with Vanguard gave Oregon a real budget and access to quality studios for the first time, and it shows. Both albums were cleaner, richer and more sonically expansive than previous releases, and these remasters are an improvement over the briefly available 1992 Discovery CD issues. Along with its final Elektra release, 1980’s In Performance, these releases form a trilogy representing the end of the all-acoustic Oregon; Towner began to incorporate synthesizers on the group's self-titled 1983 ECM debut.

Oregon was always a democratic group. Guitarist/pianist Ralph Towner had already emerged as its most prolific writer, the late percussionist/sitarist Collin Walcott a close second. That balance remains here, but woodwind multi-instrumentalist Paul McCandless contributes two of his best tunes—the pastoral “Hungry Heart” (Roots) and the more harmonically elaborate but equally accessible “Cane Fields” (Woods). (

David Greene – Recording Engineer: We decided to go to a facility called Longview Farms in Massachusetts. They had a studio set up in the farmhouse and you could have a fire in the fireplace if you wanted it. You looked out the back window in the control room and you could see horses out in the field. You'd go to the fridge and skim the cream off the top of the milk in the bucket 'cause it came out of the cow that morning.
We spent about two-and-a-half days setting up. It was my job to put the guys in a mood so they'd just feel like playing music. And thats' what happened. After dinner on the second or third night, it all clicked. About 60% of Roots in the Sky came out in the next four hours. It was the most amazing feeling.

Ralph Towner: These albums were a real high point. By the time we got to (these) we really knew what we were doing. Out of the Woods is still our best-selling record. Roots in the Sky wasn't quite as famous, but we felt we played even better on that one. It's got some real challenging pieces on it. We felt that was the strongest the band had played – ever. It marked a real landmark in our playing.

Paul McCandless: These records are really terrific. They represent a peak for the band in its acoustic phase. With these records we achieved a lot more artistic power than we did with our early phases.

Glen Moore: It was a very alive, a very in-the-moment time, and the music reflects it in the depth of it and the sound of it. The originality in the music is astonishing, and these albums really capture that.

David Greene: I'm deeply honored to have been there. They're geniuses. There's nobody like them.
(excerpts from liner notes to Out of the Woods/Roots in the Sky remastered reissue)

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