Oregon has always been one of those bands that really defy categorization. On one hand, they come across as an acoustic jazz band, yet they play a much more pastoral, avant-garde style than most traditional jazz groups. The band also can be considered a progressive rock act, although they sail closer to new-age waters than most prog outfits do. Some may even consider them a World music band. Whatever you decide to call Oregon, the end result is always gorgeous, risk taking music that is as complex as it is melodic. Wounded Bird Records has thankfully reissued their landmark 1980 live album, In Performance, which pulls songs from three gigs in Montreal, Quebec City, and New York's Carnegie Hall. This is Oregon at their peak.
Comprised of nine lengthy tracks (the original LP was a double album), this CD is chock-full of a few Oregon classics, such as the wispy "Waterwheel", an endearing song featuring the lovely oboe of Paul McCandless and the intricate classical guitar work of Ralph Towner. Other Oregon staples, such as "Deer Path", "Arion", and "Icarus" are also included in this set, as is a gymnastic percussion solo from the talented Collin Walcott. Fans of improvised music will love "Free Piece", an intense jam with rolling acoustic bass from Glen Moore, flute, Walcott's tribal timpani and tables, and lots of dissonant piano chords from Towner. Who can dislike the oddball noodlings on "Buzzbox", a bouncy workout with manic violin, odd-metered percussion, and melodic flute passage? Certainly not me! Towner pulls in a beautiful performance on the romantic "Along the Way", an acoustic guitar gem that is helped along by the meditative flute work of McCandless.
This is really a stunning live statement from a unique band whose music has always stood the test of time. If you like music featuring an amalgam of instruments (guitar, violin, piano, bass, sitar, percussion, French horn, flugelhorn, flute, oboe, and sax) in a relaxed setting but with complex arrangements, then I urge you to give this CD a listen. In some ways Oregon are kind of like an instrumental, acoustic Gentle Giant-always breaking new ground and giving the listener music that is intelligent, yet demanding.