So what would happen if a group of younger musicians came to jazz by way of indie rock, indie pop, folk, and experimental music? Without conscious care for the trappings and traditions of jazz? With an emphasis on raw expressionism and boundless energy? The result of this might very well be the music of Blue Cranes, an indie jazz band from Portland, Oregon. “Homing Patterns” is the newest CD from this band that features original compositions and improvisations that were mostly recorded live in various venues around Portland, including an underground light rail station. But more on that in just a moment.
Blue Cranes’ sound is built around saxophones and has Reed Wallsmith on alto sax and Sly Pig (otherwise known as Joe Cunningham, if you get the pun on his last name, from the indie pop group, The Decembrists) on tenor sax. Their performances on the recording are uniformly coordinated, matching each other in tone, energy, and imagination. It’s a real pleasure to hear these two play together. Rebecca Sanborn performs on keyboards and piano, Keith Brush handles the acoustic bass, Ji Tanzer plays drums, and Ila Cantor is featured on guitar.
The music ranges from the dissonant to the semi-lyrical, and the musical journey that the band takes the listener on is filled with unexpected surprises, some jarring, but most are pleasantly intriguing. The use of melody is restrained and used sparingly (using instead repeated and concise melodic motifs like electronically samples sound bites), and instead spurts of expressionistic runs, growls, and howls supply the intensity and drive that propel the listener along. One of the more interesting numbers is “Washington Park – Eastbound,” a duet between Wallsmith and Pig. It was recorded in an underground light rail station underneath Washington Park in Portland. Both musicians work with the natural ambience and reverberation of the tiled environment, responding to the arrival and departure of one of the light rail trains and incorporating its sounds into the composition. It’s a totally fascinating piece and sums up the inventiveness and creativity of this endeavor. Leave behind your expectations and go along for the ride. Blue Cranes will take you to new and interesting places. If nothing else, you won’t be bored.
2. Awesome Hawk
5. Dirty Bourbon
7. Beware the Pneumatic Nailer
8. Early Morning
9. Inner Dialogue
10. Washington Park – Eastbound
11. Crane – Reprise
– Hermon Joyner