"...a melodic journey with no final destination. They are post-jazz meets post-bop meets post-rock. From one moment to the next, the impression made is of song, even as they eschew the limitations of structural boundaries." – Dave Sumner, Bandcamp Daily 'Best Jazz, August 2023'
"These musicians have been working together since 2004, and it shows. This is the kind of togetherness that can only be developed over time by thoughtful, caring artists. It’s great that My Only Secret no longer is one: This is a terrific recording by a wonderfully talented group." – (4.5/5) Frank Alkyer / Downbeat
“Vibrant, lyrical, passionate, colorful. Like a poem.” – Jean-Claude Vantroyen / Le Soir
"It is, without exception, tough, modern, melodic...challenging jazz music" – Nettavisen
Keeping a band together, particularly among the mercurial community of jazz musicians, is no small feat. Other gigs beckon. Life outside of making art takes precedence. It’s a reality that makes the continued existence and progression of Portland quintet Blue Cranes feel so momentous. The ensemble — saxophonists Reed Wallsmith and Joe Cunningham, drummer Ji Tanzer, keyboardist Rebecca Sanborn, and bassist Jon Shaw — has been working together in a variety of formats since 2004, creating a solid body of work that has connected them to both the traditional sounds and the future-minded artists of their chosen genre.
What has kept them together is strong personal and creative bonds. As a collective, their remit has always been to continually push their art further and further outside their comfort zones and to the edges of their abilities. It’s what fueled the group’s last album, 2021’s Voices, which found Blue Cranes recording for the first time with an assortment of vocalists (Laura Gibson, Edna Vazquez, Holland Andrews, Peter Broderick, Laura Veirs). And that desire to stretch even further beyond their previous work is at the heart of their new album My Only Secret. “I felt like I was getting in a rut, harmonically,” Wallsmith says. “I was trying to get out of that. To bring in more complexity and not do the same thing again.”
To that end, Wallsmith brought elements of twelve-tone and through-composition into his writing. “Semicircle” has an ever changing tonal center, while “Forward” keeps shifting and evolving in the manner of cloud formations being pushed along the sky. Cunningham, meanwhile, took on a nonlinear form of songwriting. “Gaviota” evokes the minimalist work of John Adams with its intertwining melodies and an extended coda that brings in some rattling percussion, the flute playing of John C. Savage, and the trombone of James Powers.
Another major shift for the band was to change the way they recorded My Only Secret. Created during the height of the quarantine, Blue Cranes altered their usual way of recording out of necessity, tracking each part separately and in duets across the studio window in Wallsmith’s basement. . With some help from longtime cohorts Jason Powers and Todd Sickafoose, Wallsmith built the songs up using the individual components, usually adding Tanzer last in the process, because, he notes, “Ji is such an expressive player and is so in the moment, reacting to what’s happening. I felt like we’d lose all that otherwise.” Even with this temporal separation, says Cunningham, “it was like we were responding to each other. There was communication happening in the same space but at different times. And somehow it sounds like we’re playing live in the same room.”
What will always stay the same with Blue Cranes no matter how much they change as people, as players and as composers is the vibrant emotional core within the music they create. Each song on My Only Secret has a core memory attached to it, whether it is the birth of a child (“Sloan”), a parent’s comfort after the death of a beloved pet (“Rhododendron”), or the agony of the 2016 election results (“Forward”). They feel every moment of every song deeply, something which colors every note they play. “We’re a good emotional band,” says Cunningham. “We can go to that place.” The beauty of My Only Secret, like all of the work Blue Cranes has produced to date, is that they want anyone and everyone to join them.
released August 11, 2023
Blue Cranes are:
Reed Wallsmith (alto saxophone, keys, percussion)
Joe Cunningham (tenor saxophone, keys, percussion)
Rebecca Sanborn (keyboards)
Jon Shaw (bass)
Ji Tanzer (drums)
James Powers (trombone on 3 & 4)
John Savage (flute on 3 & 4)
Nicole McCabe (clarinet on 3)
Timothy Young (guitar on 5)
Recorded by Reed Wallsmith at Ekphrastic
Mixed by Todd Sickafoose
Mastered by Jason Powers
Produced by Blue Cranes
All songs published by Lift Music Flown Music (BMI)
Front cover illustration by Kavi Wallsmith
Album design by Rob Jones
Stunning work from everyone involved! Each track is perfectly placed in the the compilation, so relaxing and beautiful. This project is so meaningful to me as a female/queer artist and as someone who focuses a lot on my own mental health... it shines light on an area that needs more representation and attention. This vinyl is already a treasured part of my collection, thank you!