WEST COAST PERFORMER MAGAZINE
In recent years, Portland has become a breeding ground for a number of exciting jazz combos, all of which aim to take the genre out of the cocktail lounge and into the indie rock club. One such group is an invigorating quartet known as Blue Cranes. Although it sticks to the typical lineup of a jazz quartet (sax, keys, bass and drums), the group avoids expository solos and renditions of traditional songs, instead sticking together throughout like a rock band and, on this album, even covering a song by the late Elliott Smith.
Blue Cranes haven’t completely eschewed the notions of what jazz music is, writing straightforward works like the swinging ode to another Portland band “Thirty Ought Six Circus,” as well as proving they can ride a Latin groove with best of them on “Cristo De Palacaguina.” Yet what makes Blue Cranes so enticing is how closely they align themselves with other jazz artists like Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus, who stretched the boundaries of what jazz can be. To that end, the Cranes have included fascinating songs like “Dear Howard,” where they provide the backing track for a spoken word piece, and the slow-simmering tunes “Greenwood” and “Aluvion Song for Audrey,” which see each member (especially drummer Ji Tanzer and bassist Keith Brush) thrumming and rolling along like ocean waves.
The real star of this show is Reed Wallsmith though, not only for his brilliant alto sax work but also for his production on the album. The young bandleader adds the right amount of texture and color to this already captivating musical canvas. With his input, Blue Cranes take flight with ease and grace on this accomplished debut.
"Great melodies and a strong focus on ensemble playing over individual virtuosity." - DAVID KING (The Bad Plus)
February 9, 2007
The compositions and arrangements on the first CD for this young jazz group won bandleader Reed Wallsmith the 2007 Caldera Arts residency. That should be no surprise once you hear it, for this is music of great promise.
Built on simple melodies, often delivered slowly by Wallsmith's compelling alto saxophone over keyboard, bass and drums, these tunes are constructed with subtle sophistication. Never sleepy or static, and sporting an indie-rock edge that periodically disrupts the tranquillity, the Blue Cranes are what jazz is all about: applying advanced harmonies and improvisation to the sounds of the day. It's worked for the Bad Plus, and it might for the Cranes, too.
"Returning to Portland," for instance, opens abruptly with an off-kilter but strangely pretty line that spins out slowly in a minor key until, about four minutes in, an infant's cry shatters the mood. Drums and bass scratch and scrabble uneasily until the questing alto rides again, followed by distorted, bowed bass and a rocking backbeat over which the melody finally emerges, this time in a major key.
Several tunes have similar narrative scope; "Dear Howard," a series of poems recited over the music, literally presents a story, though it's overlong and obscure. And Wallsmith's arrangement of the Nicaraguan "Cristo de Palacaguina" evokes the Sandinista struggle, retaining its folk feel while shifting into improvisational territory. They turn Elliott Smith's "Coming Up Roses" into jazz as well.
Though the melodies tend to sound similar, I walk around happily whistling those insistent instrumental lines over and over; they feel new each time. Expect to hear more from the Cranes, who also include Keith Brush (bass), Rebecca Sanborn (keyboards) and Ji Tanzer (drums).
(Portland, Oregon, USA)
Blue Cranes, Portland’s four-piece instrumental group blur the line between jazz and indie rock and adventure. Their first full length album, Lift Music! Flown Music! will be released at Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison on Wednesday January 24, 9 pm.
The new Blue Cranes CD begins with “Returning to Portland”, a haunting tune featuring an unforgettable saxophone melody accompanied by an unusual electronic organ, upright bass, cellos and drum combo. The stage is set for the unfolding musical tale that lifts and soars, inviting repeated listenings.
The CD title refers to the actions of a heavy machinery company and the wetland African bird from which this band derives its name. Portland’s Blue Cranes have a thoughtful and accessible blend of cohesive sounds with capable and accomplished musicians listening and playing together in a refreshing, powerful ensemble. Five of the eight tunes are originals penned by founder Reed Wallsmith.
The music on Lift Music! Flown Music! draws on free jazz (saxophonist Wallsmith’s work), indie rock (covers of The Kingdom’s “Polaris,” and the late PDX-son singer-songwriter Elliot Smith’s “Coming up Roses”), local poetry (Nico Alvarado-Greenwood’s “Dear Howard”), film music, and the Nicaraguan Nueva Cancion political song movement (Nicaraguan musician-laureate Carlos Mejia Godoy’s “Cristo de Palacaguina”).
Alto saxophonist, composer and bandleader Wallsmith has studied and played in Managua, Havana, Barcelona and Berlin, as well as around the States. He is featured on the soundtrack to St. Helen’s Road, a film by filmmaker Jim Blashfield. Wallsmith is recipient of the 2007 Caldera Arts residency for music composition.
Keyboardist Rebecca Sanborn began writing music at the age of nine, and went on to study composition as well as theatre. She also performs as a singer-songwriter under her own name and recently released Ballads and Namesakes on Duomo Records.
Bassist Keith Brush began a music career in Montana with the Billings Symphony while performing with multiple cross-genre groups. Brush has had the opportunity to study, perform and record with Dirty Martini, The Stolen Sweets, Ca“a Son, and The Dusty York Trio.
Drummer Ji Tanzer performs with National Flower, the Nigerian afro-beat of Jujuba, and the Ghanaian fusion of Chata Addy. Tanzer has collaborated with jazz pianists Darrell Grant and Randy Porter, receiving recognition in Downbeat magazine.
Blue Cranes, part of a movement of Portland bands (alongside Paxselin and Evolutionary Jass Band) breathe new life into the structure and aesthetic of a music sometimes “mothballed by purists and considered dead by cynics”. Since forming in 2004, Blue Cranes have successfully built a diverse audience of people not normally drawn to jazz. They have amassed an impressive log of shows at the most prominent rock and jazz venues in the Portland area, as well as performing live on the air at local music stations, KMHD and KBOO.
Scheduled guests for the CD soiree are Bright Red Paper and Rollerball. The show starts at 9pm. The concert is for ages 21+,and the cover is $6.
For further information, visit their website at www.bluecranesmusic.com.