Going on 30 years in the game, Oregon is stubbornly synonymous with the broad-stroke terms "chamber jazz" and "Northwestern lyricism," neither very precise descriptions. Yes, leader Ralph Towner is a classically trained guitarist, long a New York and/or Europe-based musician who hails from Oregon, along with cofounder and bassist Glen Moore. Paul McCandless' high-range reed playing has a neat, stately quality that recalls classical articulation. But their sound is really a classically flavored folk-jazz-worldly melange, best defined by mere mention of the band name. They still rule the field they created.
Prime extends the classic Oregonian aesthetic and is a fine introduction for the uninitiated. Percussionist Mark Walker, the newcomer in a seat well-warmed by Collin Walcott and Trilok Gurtu, fits in beautifully, lending understated rhythmic energy and airy color--the "chamber" factor again rearing its tasteful head. Prime showcases Towner's bright-spirited sophistication as a player and especially as a writer (i.e., the metric maze of the opener "If" and the multisectioned "Monterey Suite," commissioned as a large ensemble work by the Monterey Jazz Festival, pared down to combo-size here). The classic, deeply ingrained empathy between players is alive and well. Their prime hits a new chapter.