Longevity is a key ingredient to transforming a decent band into a mesmerizing one. If a group manages to stay together for years, refining their sound and honing their telepathy, the individual voices may blossom into the greatness of unity.
Such is the case with Portland band Blue Cranes.
Since 2006, when the group solidified into a quintet, Blue Cranes has become one of the most unified jazz bands in Portland. Founded by alto saxophonist Reed Wallsmith, the group includes Joe Cunningham on tenor, keys by Rebecca Sanborn, Keith Brush on the bass and Ji Tanzer keeping time on drums.
Like much innovation in music, their sound remains difficult to categorize, but two constants abound in the sonic world of Blue Cranes. Their songs possess a stimulating pulse and catchiness drawn from the world of indie rock underpinned by dazzling improvisation that can only be called jazz. The uniqueness of this improvisation is that the players eschew extended individual soloing in favor of what might be called jazz by committee.
With three full-length albums under their belt and a reputation throughout the Northwest as a force of nature in live performance, 2013 is looking like the year that Blue Cranes get the opportunity to spread their songs to the uninitiated. Having signed to East Coast indie label Cuneiform Records, the group has a new album waiting in the wings that has already generated excited speculation and much deserved attention.
They also headlined a show in collaboration with Seattle jazz innovator Wayne Horvitz during the opening weekend of this year’s 10th Annual PDX Jazz Festival. What transpired on the stage of the Mission Theater that night brought the audience a swift sighting of lightning in a bottle. Both Blue Cranes and Wayne Horvitz are innovators in terms of how they play and the compositions they write, so a collaboration seemed inevitable and long overdue. Joining the band on piano and keys, Horvitz brought an elegant experimentalism to the proceedings as he played their tunes and Blue Cranes eagerly tackled his own compositions. The audience howled out for more when all was said and done.
For a taste of what it was like to be there, check out the video courtesy of KMHD Jazz Radio above.