"Jazz has long been home to virtuoso soloists, and usually, the younger they were, the more notes they played. But the Blue Cranes' Reed Wallsmith has moved in the opposite direction. His compositions build simple melodies on two-and-three-note motifs that attain intensity from repetition and a broad, expressive tone.
On the Cranes' second album, "Homing Patterns," Wallsmith (saxophone) and original Cranes Keith Brush (bass), Rebecca Sanborn (keyboards) and Ji Tanzer (drums) continue to draw from folk and indie rock to create shifting, cinematic soundscapes that further blur the line between jazz and popular music.
This time, though, they've added a new voice in Joe Cunningham, tenor sax player for the Decemberists. New York guitarist Ila Cantor also guests on the CD, but Wallsmith has found a kindred spirit in Cunningham. Their collaboration is at the heart of the new Cranes sound, whether they're playing in unison or weaving decorative lines around each other.
With Tanzer kicking out steady beats, you're always well-grounded, even on Cunningham's "Dirty Burbon," where the waltz feel is never lost, even as it goes wildly off-kilter and Cantor deconstructs the melody. Only the infrequent free-blowing sections cause the focus to wander.
Despite the simple melodies and rock beats, the Cranes' music never feels monotonous or static. Like the long-form compositions of other progressive jazz artists, it's constantly changing. In "Awesome Hawk," for instance, the spacious melody gives way to an untidy improvisational passage before the sweeping theme returns, the volume and intensity build to a dramatic peak and the Cranes take flight. The view is different up there, and actually quite serene."
-LYNN DARROCH, The Oregonian
"Out of Portland's jazz scene comes Blue Cranes' sophomore all-instrumental album. Composed of almost entirely live recordings, Homing Patterns successfully offers a downbeat eclectic set of thoughtful compositions for any jazz listener.
Made up of Reed Wallsmith on alto sax, Sly Pig (Joe Cunningham) on tenor sax, Rebecca Sanborn on keyboards, Keith Brush on acoustic bass and Ji Tanzer on drums, Blue Cranes puts forth a powerful and whole jazz feeling. This robust sound can be heard throughout much of the album, giving it a slightly similar feel to John Coltrane or even Oregon.
The fullness of the album can be most attributed to Blue Cranes' saxophone-oriented style of instrumentation. Wallsmith's alto and [Sly Pig]'s tenor work well together, whether they are presenting a solid melody or an abstract idea. The two continually play off each other, forming the core of their style.
The first track "S.T.I.L.L." introduces the patterns and styles of the group, which are used for the duration of the album. Beginning with a stately sax intro, the piece transitions into a flurried spiral of notes, followed by a simple minor chord progression backed by a slightly progressive and straightforward rock beat.
Homing Patterns is very experimental, introducing innovative and progressive styles with flare and bravado. Syncopated rhythms and odd time signatures are common of the group. Many of the songs border on the abstract, reminiscent of Ornette Coleman's fast and sporadic saxophone riffs. "Beware The Pneumatic Nailer" is one such example, beginning with an incredibly abstract piano and saxophone introduction and later transitioning into melody over a minute into the song.
"Washington Park- Eastbound" similarly delves into the sporadic and abstract, showing off Blue Cranes' creative ability. Recorded in a Portland tunnel, Wallsmith and [Sly Pig]'s playing styles intertwine in an ambient yet speech-like manner, mimicking an animated subway conversation.
Like their first release Lift Music! Flown Music!, Blue Cranes stick to a slow-to-moderate range of speeds throughout the album. Although the group excels in technicality and precision, Homing Patterns strays away from rapid drum rhythms and standing bass lines, usually characteristic of fast-paced improvisational jazz. Furthermore, the virtuosic abilities of each member are portrayed together as a whole rather than individually, as the album has few pronounced solos.
This approach, however, shines through their music as a prominent strength in "Crane" and its concluding reprise, two amazingly stunning and haunting pieces that showcase the group's diversity and inventive drive. Both songs combine slow and thoughtful sax melodies and distant, muffled drumming to create a lush atmospheric sound, proving to be two of the most powerful tracks on the album.
Blue Cranes' unique and unified style is undeniable, and Homing Patterns progressive and experimental edge exhibits an impressive display of talent and innovation."
-JUSTIN HO, California Aggie