Album Review: Blue Cranes

Swim (Cuneiform)

There's no way around it: Swim, the fourth album by local jazz institution Blue Cranes, is as heady and dark as anything the group has done in its six years together. The big chainsaw synths of opener "Beautiful Winners" are followed by dual sax lines glued together so tightly they, too, sound synthetic—like a video-game version of an Ethiopian funk band's horn section. The opener's massive bridges, packed with drum fills, offer some resolution, but the real relief doesn't show up until the aptly titled second track, “Everything is Going to be Okay.” Tenor saxophonist Reed Wallsmith  Joe Cunningham is granted room to improvise wildly, breaking apart the industrial grind established in the record's first six minutes. Its intense call-and-response sax flights, which shoot up like fireworks reflected on the Willamette, are among the record's prettiest moments.

It's not long before the darkness returns, and it's urgent and gutting. "Polarnatt" sounds like John Coltrane with Nigel Godrich at the helm. "Soldier" is all string-driven, drunken majesty, like Charles Mingus partying a little too hard with the Kronos Quartet. "For Chris" is one of many examples of this band getting absolutely profound without ever saying a word. Taken together, these songs—produced by the Decemberists' Nate Query—map out some pretty harrowing times, but I struggle to think of better cartographers than the members of Blue Cranes.

SEE IT: Blue Cranes play Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., with Billygoat and Golden Retriever, on Friday, May 24. 9 pm. $10. 21+. 

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