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Review: Blue Cranes, Observatories

Blue Cranes
[www.bluecranesmusic.com (2010)]

Various Artists
Oversea Orbits: Observatories Remixed

When the Blue Cranes swoop down from Portland, Oregon’s subtly ever-changing cloud, their approach to color, harmonics, melody and rhythmic swing is a feathery negotiation. The eight dynamic pieces shaping Observatories feel like a single composition surging with ritual precision. However, considered individually, each piece, from alto saxophonist Reed Wallsmith’s tribute to his mentor on the opening “Grandpa’s Hands” to tenor saxophonist Sly Pig’s poignant eulogy for his grandmother Mary Ruth Fortino (whose passing last year occasioned the transporting “Broken Windmills”) to drummer Ji Tanzer’s swinging excursion into deep melody on “These Are My People,” feels thematic even though lines emerge formed from spontaneous reverie sparked by collaborative interplay. How this loopy amalgam of inspired feints juking between harmonious groove and atonal curiosity—refined over a couple of years’ worth of Pacific Northwestern gigging with many diversely styled guests—has cohered into such a finely formed sequence is mysterious.

Vintage keyboard curator Rebecca Sanborn is a sustaining presence, whether on toy piano, refurb electric organ or sublime piano. Sanborn’s approach to Seattle-based new music composer and sometimes roadhouse blues and groove bandleader Wayne Horvitz’s “Love, Love, Love” reveals the offbeat maestro’s essence. Horvitz has said he likes to rub the wrong note right. Sanborn finesses it in a deep soul kiss and in a manner most feline with elastic bassist Keith Brush in tandem with Horvitz’s own electric guitarist Timothy Young spreading his digits. Listen for the piano-drums-cymbal interlude where Sanborn and Ji Tanzer generate some softly pulsing colors before the Blue Cranes and guest drop back in.

Cello, violin and viola join Young’s burnished tones and Brush’s painterly upright bass on Wallsmith’s enigmatic “Yellow Ochre.” Where the Blue Cranes organic cultivation of their homegrown material sprouts most tasty is on the complex string trio, bass clarinet and doubled alto sax arrangement of Sly Pig’s deceptively rootsy yet baggage-laden “Maddie Mae (Was A Good Girl).” The raucous squawking squall between Sly tenor and alto Reed on Wallsmith’s nod to local Portland rockers the Ritchie Bros crowns Observatories with a funky glow. And as a New Year’s 2011 postscript to the reciprocal nature of all the Portlandia sounds a-musing that the Blue Cranes draw so much of their sub sonic inspiration from, locally sourced sound trackers, mix masters and spliff splicers Ethan Rose, Quiet Countries, Jonny Classic, Gavin Castleton, J.P. Jenkins, Gulls, Doug Theriault and Elders have contributed to a fresh CD of Blue Cranes re-mixes under the apt title of Oversea Orbits: Observatories Remixed. [www.bluecranesmusic.com 2011]

—Mitch Ritter (Beaverton, OR)

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