It’s easy to take for granted a band that’s been around half as long as Oregon—or, worse, lose track of it all together. But as a recent East Coast swing illustrated, and as 1000 Kilometers quickly reaffirms, the innovative quartet still occupies a unique niche in American music after all these years.
Over 35 years in the making, the ensemble’s instrumental weave, colored by jazz, classical and world-beat colors, shows no signs of fading on this collection of newly composed original tunes. Guitarist Ralph Towner wrote most of them, and among his contributions that stand out, albeit quietly, are “From a Dream,” a brief but sublime pas de deux for guitar and soprano sax, “1000 Kilometers,” a slowly unfurling piece that makes insinuating use of McCandless’s soprano sax, and the hushed, haunting ballad “Paraglide.”
Fellow founding members McCandless and bassist Glenn Moore, plus percussionist Mark Walker, who’s been with the ensemble for a decade, are also represented by compositions that reflect the band’s diverse interests, beginning with Walker’s opening polyrhythmic salvo “Deep Six.” All the players have room to shine, with Towner occasionally shifting from classical guitar to synth guitar, piano and keyboards. McCandless’s virtuosity and versatility, however, play an even more important role in keeping things interesting; in addition to soprano, he plays oboe, English horn and bass clarinet with customary finesse and lyricism. 1000 Kilometers is further distinguished by some largely improvised pieces and the sort of witty interplay that enlivens the quartet’s concert performances.