Since their formation in 2007, Blue Cranes have become a key player in the Portland, Oregon creative music/DIY scene and one of the most exciting groups to keep tabs on in the Northwest. They've developed a singular musical voice grounded in melody and explosive improvisations – marking off their unique microcosmic territory in "post-jazz/jazz-not jazz" circles, ala comparable bands like The Bad Plus, The Claudia Quintet, Happy Apple, Wayne Horvitz, and Janel & Anthony. The members of the quintet - Reed Wallsmith on alto saxophone, Joe Cunningham on tenor saxophone, Rebecca Sanborn on keyboards, Keith Brush on double bass, Ji Tanzer on drums - bring a wide array of various musical experiences to their group-centered aesthetic.
It's safe to say that the band took an evolutionary step forward on their fourth full-length album, 2013's Swim. It's a noticeable departure from Blue Cranes' previous, and in some ways simpler, albums. Steered dutifully by producer Nate Query of The Decemberists, it's a window into the sometimes messy emotional space of a group struggling with and celebrating the ephemeralness of life. This work is the culmination of several between-album projects, including a 30-day crowd-sourced Amtrak train tour in 2011, and a seven day group composition retreat, supported in part by a grant from Portland's Regional Arts and Culture Council.
However, the heart of Swim lies in indelibly profound life events – the passing away of two dear friends, a serious injury, two weddings, and the birth of a child (Wallsmith's first) – events at tragic and uplifting extremes, both cathartic and celebratory.