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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Oregon Indulges Classical Side in Russia




U.S. acoustic band Oregon, in town this week to record a new album with a top Moscow orchestra, is not your usual jazz group.


For almost 30 years, since the band came together in 1970 as an offshoot of the Paul Winter Consort, Oregon has combined the benefits of classical training with the freedom of jazz improvisation.


"Our work is a container for all the experience and depth of our influences," said bandmember Ralph Towner. His colleagues cite inspirations ranging from Sergei Rakhmaninov to Scott LaFaro to Brazilian bossa nova.


But the product is entirely their own.


Describing their upcoming Moscow concert at Le Club on Saturday, the band members are reluctant to pin their style down to a particular genre. Some call their jazzy mix of classical, ethnic and folk-rock "fusion," but the musicians believe that the term has become overused and no longer applies to their work. Rather, says oboist Paul McCandless, their music is "synthesis, but not synthetic."


But it's the classical influence that can be felt the strongest in what McCandless describes as their "singing, melodic music." It also explains what they're doing in Moscow. After over half a year of contract negotiations, Oregon is recording its new, as yet untitled album together with Vladimir Fedoseyev's Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra.


The newest installment in a roster of over 22 albums, this project has been long in the making. In the past, Oregon had performed several of the tracks with various American orchestras, but practical and financial difficulties had held back the project's completion.


The choice of a Russian orchestra was integral to the band's creative plan. Turned off by what they considered to be the staid, lackluster spirit of many American orchestras, both producers and band members looked to the Russian classical scene for a more intense approach.


"I got totally hooked on the idea of doing it over here, because of the musicianship, because of the passion, because of the lack of cynicism that I find in Russian musicians," said producer Steve Rodby. "I always felt that the people here had a higher level of musical sensitivity."


On its upcoming album, Oregon does not force the orchestra to play a style of music that is not its own. Rather, the orchestra balances the distinctive sounds of the band with its natural voice, creating an interlaced medley of styles intended to appeal to lovers of jazz and classical music alike.


"There's something about Oregon that has always drawn classical musicians to appreciate their music, that has always been intelligible in a way, and it's part of what makes the writing work, the orchestrations work, and the performance work," said Rodby.


The combination of instruments is another factor that differentiates Oregon's sound from that of other jazz bands. Alongside bassist Glen Moore and guitarist and pianist Towner, who writes much of the band's music, there's McCandless performing on the oboe and English horn and percussionist Mark Walker, a recent addition to the band, on drums and gongs from around the world.


After a week of heavy recording, the members of the band say that they cannot wait for the exhilaration and liberation of Saturday evening's performance. The artistic satisfaction of recording a piece of music is hard to beat, says Rodby, but when Oregon gets on the stage in front of an audience, "it's a living, breathing thing."


Oregon plays at 10 p.m. Saturday at Le Club, 21 Bolshaya Radishchevskya. Tel: 915-1042. Metro: Taganskaya.