[INDIE PIG JAZZ] For a few long days last December, Blue Cranes alto saxophonist Reed Wallsmith was vomiting pretty heavily. Crappy timing, considering he was in the midst of recording the band's latest album, Homing Patterns. Keyboardist Rebecca Sanborn then came down with the stomach flu. Meanwhile, Type Foundry engineer Jason Powers was huddled in a scarf with a box of Kleenex by his side.
"Pretty much every day we were recording, a different person got very sick," Wallsmith says. The result, however painfully conceived, is a fine product of Portland's dreary, sun-deprived winters. It's also an evolutionary step in the brand of expressionistic jazz that's defined the group since it linked up just over a year ago. But tenor saxophonist/horn arranger, Patterns- and Decemberists-contributor Joe Cunningham doesn't think of the Cranes as a jazz band. Drummer Ji Tanzer agrees: "We're just having fun and playing music using the influences we have...rock, folk, whatever. We're not on a mission to teach rock listeners what jazz is all about."
Those influences range from the Bad Plus to Elliott Smith (whose "Coming Up Roses" was covered on the Cranes' debut). The band—rounded out by bassist Keith Brush and often found playing rock clubs like Holocene or sharing bills with punk groups—doesn't see itself as "alt" or "experimental," either. It is, however, open to experimenting with performance spaces. On Patterns' "Washington Park–Eastbound," for instance, Wallsmith and Cunningham—who recently made the screwy decision to go by "Sly Pig" to distinguish himself from an East Coast smooth jazz sax player of the same name (it's a pun; figure it out)—play an eerie freeform horn duo recorded in the Washington Park MAX tunnel.
Wallsmith also has a whole backlog of ideas when it comes to keeping Portland jazz performances weird. "In Paris," he says, "a hundred saxophonists were on some sort of email list and all showed up at the same subway stop at the same time, pulled out their horns, and played completely free for a minute. Then they put their horns away and dispersed," he continues. "I'm putting a call out to all of Oregon and Washington that this should happen." Well, Reed, I happen to have an old alto sax sitting in my closet. Just say the word.
Blue Cranes play Monday, May 26, with Alas, Alak, Alaska! and Afternoon Brother at the Towne Lounge. 9:30 pm. $5. 21+.