Exquisite beauty and extraordinary creativity.
Paul McCandless and Charged Particles
Exquisite beauty and extraordinary creativity.
Paul McCandless’ warm woodwind sound is synonymous with some of the most creative new acoustic music since bebop, through his seminal work with the band Oregon and the Paul Winter Consort. He’s a Grammy-winning recording artist, most recently for Best Pop Instrumental with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, and he’s appeared on stage and on recordings with artists such as Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius, Wynton Marsalis, Lyle Mays, Mark Isham, Steve Reich, Al Jarreau, Bruce Hornsby, Art Lande, Carla Bley, Tony Furtado, the String Cheese Incident, and many others. With his dramatic arsenal of woodwinds, including oboe and bass clarinet as well as saxophone, McCandless is breaking new ground with Charged Particles, a Bay Area-based band that’s been a tight unit for 25 years.
Paul McCandless, woodwinds
Murray Low, keyboards
Aaron Germain, bass
Jon Krosnick, drums
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Every composer wants to hear his or her music performed, but some make it easier than others. Paul McCandless, the multi-reed master who co-founded the pioneering world jazz ensemble Oregon in the late 1960s, has developed an expansive body of music over the past three decades that tends to scare away admirers inclined to tackling the tunes. So he was particularly pleased when drummer Jon Krosnick, the leader of the creatively ambitious power trio Charged Particles, contacted him about collaborating. Undaunted by the music’s complexity, they’ve performed around the country with McCandless, breathing new life into pieces drawn largely from his acclaimed but hard to find 1992 album Premonition (Windham Hill Jazz) featuring pianist Lyle Mays.
“They had taken a real liking to my compositions, which are rather complicated and forbidding to musicians,” says McCandless, 69, who settled in Northern California in the mid-1980s. “Some of the charts are 10 pages, with a lot of counterpoint that would usually require at least a quintet, but they were more than ready for the challenge. It’s a thrill to have such talented and skillful musicians enjoy working on my music. I haven’t had a chance to perform it much in live situations and we’re getting around to some interesting places this summer.”
Best known for his extraordinary expressiveness on oboe and English horn, McCandless usually travels with soprano and piccolo saxophones, bass clarinet and various penny whistles. He first gained attention in the late 1960s in the Paul Winter Consort, an ensemble that combined European classical music, jazz, and various international traditions. By the end of 1969, he and bandmates Ralph Towner (guitar and piano), Glenn Moore (bass and violin) and Colin Wolcott (sitar and tabla) “discovered we had a real affinity for each other,” McCandless says.
“We developed music for the quartet while we were on tour with the Winter Consort. There was a strong Indian influence with the sitar and tabla, which didn’t always appeal to everyone. We also did a lot of free improvisation with varying results. It was a much risker proposition than the Winter Consort, and when I was forced to make a choice I realized I was going to learn a lot more in the quartet.”
The musicians in Charged Particles bring a similarly adventurous mentality to the band’s repertoire. The group’s third incarnation features ace bassist Aaron Germain and pianist/keyboardist Murray Low, a widely esteemed Latin jazz expert. They’ve both contributed tunes to the Charged Particles repertoire, which has evolved from its roots in metrically intricate fusion to a more acoustic approach. As the same time, the group has also developed a tribute to tenor sax titan Michael Brecker that encompasses his funk and fusion outings.
From Brecker to Oregon might seem like a stretch, but Krosnick is used to balancing conflicting agendas. As the director of the Political Psychology Research Group at Stanford University, where he’s also a professor of political science and communication, Krosnick is one of the nation’s foremost experts on voter decision-making. And for as long as he’s been scaling the heights of academia he’s also pursued his passion for jazz.
Born in Philadelphia and raised in New Jersey, he grew up studying classical percussion at Interlochen Center for the Arts, the prestigious program where he spent every summer from age nine to his late teens. He caught the jazz bug during a groundbreaking Interlochen residency by the Stan Kenton Orchestra, when a remarkable young drummer named Peter Erskine powered the brass-laden band. He sought out Erskine for lessons, which led to an ongoing friendship that shaped Krosnick’s approach to the drum kit. It also provided him with a front row seat to Weather Report’s early-80s heyday when Erskine teamed up with electric bassist Jaco Pastorius.
Krosnick kept the drums as a constant companion, performing through his undergraduate years and graduate studies in psychology at University of Michigan. By the mid-1980s he was teaching in the departments of psychology and political science at Ohio State University while also forging ties with some of the best players in the region. Charged Particles first came into being as a hard-grooving plugged-in trio that Krosnick documented on two critically acclaimed CDs (while performing at high profile venues like the Kennedy Center). When mainstream jazz’s zeitgeist unplugged and turned away from fusion, Charged Particles built on the innovations of Chick Corea, who incorporated Brazilian and flamenco influences during his jazz-rock period.
“I had loved Chick’s music, but Mike and Caleb were doing the original composing and it was their vision,” Krosnick says. “Fusion had come and gone, but audiences were still really open to that sound.”
Hired by Stanford in 2004, he arrived in the Bay Area with few musical contacts and rapidly accelerating academic responsibilities. For several years he traveled back to Ohio to get his musical fix, but eventually he connected with Low, who teaches jazz piano at Stanford. Low suggested electric bassist Jason Muscat, and Charged Particles was reborn on the West Coast. When Muscat got busy with the popular ’80s cover band Painted Love, Germain took over the bass chair.
Krosnick’s love of McCandless’s music shifted the trio in the new direction, and the collaboration has allowed the double reed master another exquisite vehicle to pursue “a style that comes from the strength of the instrument,” McCandless says, “rather than trying to play oboe like a saxophone, which just sounds wimpy.”
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