The stars of Ecotopia, Oregon’s third and final album for ECM and one wounded by the absence of Colin Walcott, are undoubtedly Ralph Towner and Paul McCandless.
One could easily be content in listening to just the two of them for the album’s 50-minute duration, pairing so gorgeously as they do on tracks like “Zephyr.” As it is, we get a rich sound palette that, while a definite shift from what came before, speaks to a mode of experimentation that is therapeutic and adventurous. McCandless’s lines in “Twice Around The Sun” are somewhat lost in the cheapening synthesizer, but make for a light-footed introduction all the same. Thankfully, Glen Moore’s bass and Trilok Gurtu’s percussion steer this vessel into more organic waters.
As the group swings in retrograde, Moore works his corona through a shower of bells and stardust. Piano and reeds fall behind silhouetted mountains, leaving Gurtu to ponder the landscape with nimble footsteps, writing the history of a savannah without wind. “Innocente” is the album’s zenith, a wondrous journey in which Towner rides a wave of table beneath McCandless’s lone seagull, who touches wing to water with every chromatic dip. His reeds sound absolutely resplendent, every note a thin ray of sunlight gathered in able grasp. After a brief throwaway improvisation (“WBAI”), the title track vindicates the use of electronics, while the swanky late-night stroll of “Leather Cats” does not. Thankfully, McCandless’s soprano wins out in this conversation.
Towner lays down the groovy backbone of “ReDial,” which Gurtu and McCandless are more than willing to flesh out with all manner of delicate venation. Towner outdoes himself and brings his gentle cascade to bear on a smooth finish. “Song Of The Morrow” also makes beautiful use of synthesizers and ends this colorful and classic album which, despite its unnecessary forays into technology, is now assured of its status as one of ECM’s Touchstones.
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