Oregon, formed as an all-acoustic jazz quartet at the dawn of the electric era, has stood by its own unique brand of “fusion” for nearly three decades now–a blend splashed with chamber music, various ethnic traditions, and folk rock. It hasn’t always been easy: after founding percussionist Collin Walcott died in an auto accident in 1984, the remaining three members seemed unwilling to admit, even to themselves, that with him went some of the band’s original elegance and spark. Working with the Indian rhythm magician Trilok Gurtu or without any drummer at all, Oregon managed to retain its sonic fingerprint: Paul McCandless’s oboe cupped the whorls of Ralph Towner’s 12-string guitar, with the whole anchored by the cleanly spaced lines of Glen Moore’s bass. But not until two years ago, when former Chicagoan Mark Walker arrived to fill the drum chair, did everyone realize how badly the ensemble had needed to replace Walcott. In Walker’s work with Cuban expat Paquito D’Rivera and in the wide variety of bands that employed him in Chicago, he’s demonstrated a scintillating command of rhythms from the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent; he also combines a subtle textural awareness with meticulous attention to the beat. He couldn’t have been better suited for this gig if he’d enrolled in the Oregon Percussionist Correspondence Course, and since he’s at least 15 years younger than the rest of the band he’s given them a sanguine new perspective: when Oregon showed up on Valentine’s Day weekend 1998 for only its second Chicago show of the 90s, one of Walker’s bandmates told me that “the band now feels complete” for the first time since Walcott’s death. They certainly played like it–for both sets, and even on ancient repertoire, the music brimmed with a tangible joy. Sunday, 7 and 10 PM, Martyrs’, 3855 N. Lincoln; 773-404-9494. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Pio Scoppala.