It’s gray and foggy where I live in Southern California, cold too. I helps sink in the fact that summer is gone and fall is here. I never liked the fall, though it’s been easier over the past few years. The holidays from Halloween until Valentine’s Day can either be a source of joy and togetherness or a sinkhole of dread and sadness, depending on each person. I may have been influenced by my late father, who always darkly observed, as fall was approaching, that “the shadows are getting longer”. It sounded like a portent of death to me.
I associate the music of the Portland, Oregon band Oregon with fall. There’s a fall feeling in their music, which they’ve been making and recording since the 1970s. The group has changed little except for the drummer/percussionist. The original drummer, Colin Walcott, died in a car accident in Germany, and a succession of drummers, including Trilok Gurtu and Mark Walker, have followed. Otherwise the group Oregon consists of Paul McCandless on double reeds and soprano sax, Glen Moore on bass, and Ralph Towner on guitars. They’ve made about a dozen cd’s over the years, maybe more.
One September I went through a bad breakup. It seems like fall is the season for most of my heavy breakups. Spring is different. Always happier, more uplifted, got better grades even though my study habits remained the same. That September in question, I listened to Oregon’s ECM record “Ecotopia” many times to absorb and reflect, sometimes deepen and enhance, my loneliness and unhappiness. Somehow the music was a mirror and a salve.
I’m listening again, this time not depressed, to Oregon’s music on this gray and cold afternoon. Ralph Towner’s beautiful songs “Icarus”, “The Lutemaker” and Oregon’s songs from Ecotopia and Northwest Passage. Maybe their music is influenced by the gray and rain of Portland, who knows. As I write this a flock of crows pass overhead. I am reminded of Van Gogh’s last painting, the ominous “Crows over Cornfield”, though I don’t feel upset now.
Oregon’s music is neither Windham Hill, European jazz, or straight-ahead jazz. It’s sophisticated an one of a kind. But it always has a heartfelt honesty and purity. I recently got a call from somebody from LA who moved to Portland and heard the band at a local club. She emailed to thank me. I was pleased that there are still people who enjoy this unusual and enduring group.