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Voices

by Blue Cranes

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about

Portland jazz ensemble Blue Cranes has long established itself as a forward-thinking entity. The quintet, made up of Reed Wallsmith on alto saxophone, Joe Cunningham on tenor saxophone, Rebecca Sanborn on keyboards, Jon Shaw on bass, and Ji Tanzer on drums, is steeped in the history and sound of the artists that came before them, but too curious and creative to simply replicate the past. Blue Cranes wants to explore.

That idea has never felt more true than with the group’s fifth and most ambitious album to date: Voices. For the first time, the band chose to record a suite of songs in collaboration with vocalists. Calling on an array of friends and artists that they have long admired—all with connections to the band’s hometown of Portland, Oregon—Blue Cranes sought to bring new energy to their work.

“We wanted to push ourselves and our collaborators into unfamiliar territory,” says co-founder Reed Wallsmith. “It is very much a Blue Cranes album at heart, written and performed in the spirit of collaboration and discovery.”

A fine example of this closes out Voices. “Favorite Son” finds alt-folk luminary Laura Veirs pushing her voice to greater heights to match the fervor of Blue Cranes member Joe Cunningham’s lyrics of geo-political fury. And the band, aided by guitarist Timothy Young (The Late Late Show with James Corden), trumpeter Noah Simpson and violist Kyleen King, among others, slides into an almost pop mode, evoking the wiry melodic tension of XTC and Spoon.

“Tatehuari,” a collaboration with Pink Martini’s Edna Vazquez and Y La Bamba’s Luz Elena Mendoza, juxtaposes vocal harmonies and lyrics of fire and rebirth with clattering sax lines, percussion and live electronics, culminating in a breathtaking swirl of sound.

“Handbook Of The Dead” features keyboardist Rebecca Sanborn shining brightly as vocalist and lyricist for the first time on a Blue Cranes recording.

A key aspect of Voices is how Blue Cranes were able to blend elements of improvisation into the songwriting process and the structures of these songs. Opening track “Brave Little Girl” was created entirely in the moment, including singer Holland Andrews extemporizing their vocal turn using key phrases plucked from a poem by Nico Alvarado. And the song “Ursula” was built around stream-of-consciousness singing from Laura Gibson. She initially sang some lines as a reaction to a bounding saxophone melody from Cunningham and Wallsmith, and then the group created an entirely new song structure to match Gibson’s vocals, pulling in The Devil Makes Three’s Cooper McBean on banjo. The resulting combination is intoxicating and spiritually uplifting.

In and around all of these rich mixes by Grammy award-winning producer/jazz bassist Todd Sickafoose is broken beat noir featuring Nils Frahm collaborator Peter Broderick; a touch of neo-soul anchored by the croon of Redray Frazier with the fluid rhythms of Blue Cranes’ Ji Tanzer and Jon Shaw; the four-part harmonies of looping artist Gavin Castleton careening into John Zorn-esque instrumental explosions; and a nostalgic tale by Black Prairie’s Annalisa Tornfelt featuring mournful string arrangements.

This multi-varied collection of songs will also receive visual accompaniment courtesy of three dazzling videos. Filmmaker and video installation artist Jim Blashfield, known for his groundbreaking music videos of the 80s and 90s (Talking Heads, Michael Jackson, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell), beautifully mirrors the sensual swirl of “Handbook of the Dead,” using 16mm footage from 1969 New York City as his palette. Award-winning cinematographer/director Sarah Whelden created a video to accompany “Tatehuari,” set in a dark, watery void, centered around choreography by Tahni Holt and Muffie Delgado. Filmmaker/animator, painter and musician Rachel Blumberg, who served as drummer/vocalist for The Decemberists, M. Ward, and Norfolk and Western, created an experimental piece blending live action and stop motion animation of water, children, and typewriters birthing worlds for “The Back Steps.”

The flow and pace of everything concerning Voices has been an intentionally slow one. Blue Cranes took its time with this material, shepherding it with care as the five members of the group focused on one track at a time, making sure that they were working with the right voices and people each step of the way. Their patience and caution was clearly worth the extra effort as Voices is a huge creative leap forward for Blue Cranes and the kind of album that will help continue their journey beyond Portland’s city limits and beyond the limits of easy to digest genre descriptors. Join in the chorus.

credits

released October 15, 2021

Blue Cranes:

Reed Wallsmith (alto saxophone)
Joe Cunningham (tenor saxophone)
Rebecca Sanborn (keyboards)
Jon Shaw (bass)
Ji Tanzer (drums)

Track listing:

1. Brave Little Girl [5:14]
Lyrics adapted from a poem by Nico Alvarado, music by Holland Andrews/Joe Cunningham/Rebecca Sanborn/Jon Shaw/Ji Tanzer/Reed Wallsmith
Lift Music Flown Music (BMI) / Bast Press (ASCAP)

Holland Andrews (vocals), Reed Wallsmith (alto saxophone), Joe Cunningham (tenor saxophone), Rebecca Sanborn (keyboards), Jon Shaw (acoustic bass), Ji Tanzer (drums)

Recorded by Josh Powell at The Map Room.
Mixed by Todd Sickafoose at Earycanal.
Mastered by Gus Elg at Sky Onion.
Produced/arranged by Blue Cranes.


2. Tatehuari [4:48]
Lyrics by Edna Vazquez, music by Reed Wallsmith
Lift Music Flown Music (BMI) / Edna Vazquez (BMI)

Edna Vazquez (lead vocals), Luz Elena Mendoza (harmony vocals), Clara Grun (choir vocals), Andrea Algieri (choir vocals), Joaquin Lopez (choir vocals), Peter Broderick (viola), Doug Theriault (live electronics), Reed Wallsmith (alto saxophone), Joe Cunningham (tenor saxophone), Rebecca Sanborn (keyboards), Jon Shaw (acoustic bass), Ji Tanzer (drums)

Vocals recorded by Jason Powers at Type Foundry. Drums/keyboards/saxophones recorded by Josh Powell at The Map Room. Live electronics recorded by Doug Theriault at Studio LTR. Bass recorded by Reed Wallsmith at Ekphrastic.

Mixed by Todd Sickafoose at Earycanal.
Mastered by Gus Elg at Sky Onion.
Produced/arranged by Blue Cranes.


3. Handbook of the Dead [3:49]
Lyrics by Rebecca Sanborn, music by Rebecca Sanborn/Joe Cunningham
Lift Music Flown Music (BMI)

Rebecca Sanborn (vocals), Kyleen King (viola/violin), Anna Fritz (cello), Reed Wallsmith (alto saxophone/percussion), Joe Cunningham (tenor saxophone/keyboards/percussion), Jon Shaw (acoustic bass), Ji Tanzer (drums)

Vocals recorded by Rebecca Sanborn and Ji Tanzer at Piano Cemetery Studios. Drums recorded by Josh Powell at The Map Room. Saxophones/strings/percussion recorded by Reed Wallsmith at Ekphrastic. Keyboards/percussion recorded by Joe Cunningham at Sly Pig Studios.

Mixed by Todd Sickafoose at Earycanal.
Mastered by Gus Elg at Sky Onion.
Produced/arranged by Blue Cranes.


4. Ursula [3:44]
Lyrics by Laura Gibson, music by Reed Wallsmith/Laura Gibson
Lift Music Flown Music (BMI) / Wintering Music (ASCAP)

Laura Gibson (vocals), Kyleen King (viola/violin), Cooper McBean (banjo), Reed Wallsmith (alto saxophone), Joe Cunningham (tenor saxophone), Rebecca Sanborn (piano/keyboards), Jon Shaw (acoustic bass), Ji Tanzer (drums)

Vocals recorded by Sean Ogilvie at Wooden Fences. Drums/bass/piano/keyboards recorded by Josh Powell at The Map Room. Saxophones/strings recorded by Reed Wallsmith at Ekphrastic. Banjo recorded by Cooper McBean at Licorice Labs.

Mixed by Todd Sickafoose at Earycanal.
Mastered by Gus Elg at Sky Onion.
Produced/arranged by Blue Cranes.


5. The Back Steps [4:20]
Lyrics adapted from a poem by Nico Alvarado, music by Reed Wallsmith/Holland Andrews/Peter Broderick
Lift Music Flown Music (BMI) / Bast Press (ASCAP) / Erased Tapes Music

Peter Broderick (vocals/viola), Holland Andrews (vocals), Reed Wallsmith (vocals/alto saxophone/percussion/casio), Noah Simpson (flugelhorn), Patrick Finley (trombone), Joe Cunningham (tenor saxophone/percussion), Rebecca Sanborn (piano), Jon Shaw (acoustic bass), Ji Tanzer (drums)

Peter’s vocals/viola/Holland’s vocals recorded by Jason Powers at Type Foundry. Drums/bass/piano/saxophones recorded by Josh Powell at The Map Room. Flugelhorn/trombone/Reed’s vocals recorded by Reed Wallsmith at Ekphrastic.

Mixed by Todd Sickafoose at Earycanal.
Mastered by Gus Elg at Sky Onion.
Produced/arranged by Blue Cranes.


6. Late Bloomer [4:33]
Lyrics by Gavin Castleton, music by Reed Wallsmith/Gavin Castleton
Lift Music Flown Music (BMI) / Hematoma Support Group (SESAC)

Gavin Castleton (vocals), Noah Simpson (trumpet), Patrick Finley (trombone), Kyleen King (viola/violin), Anna Fritz (cello), Reed Wallsmith (alto saxophone/Rhodes), Joe Cunningham (tenor saxophone), Jon Shaw (acoustic bass/glockenspiel), Ji Tanzer (drums)

Vocals recorded by Gavin Castleton at The Rap Chapel. Drums/bass recorded by Josh Powell at The Map Room.
Horns/strings/Rhodes/additional bass/glockenspiel recorded by Reed Wallsmith at Ekphrastic.

Mixed by Todd Sickafoose at Earycanal.
Mastered by Gus Elg at Sky Onion.
Produced/arranged by Blue Cranes.


7. Raven [4:12]
Lyrics by Liz Vice, music by Reed Wallsmith
Lift Music Flown Music (BMI) / Elizabeth Lorraine Vice (SESAC)

Redray Frazier (vocals), Kyleen King (viola/violin), Anna Fritz (cello), Reed Wallsmith (alto saxophone/pump organ), Joe Cunningham (tenor sax), Rebecca Sanborn (piano/keyboards), Jon Shaw (acoustic bass), Ji Tanzer (drums)

Drums/bass/keyboards/piano/saxophones recorded by Josh Powell at The Map Room. Vocals/strings/pump organ/additional saxophones recorded by Reed Wallsmith at Ekphrastic.

Mixed by Todd Sickafoose at Earycanal.
Mastered by Gus Elg at Sky Onion.
Produced/arranged by Blue Cranes.


8. I Forgive You [6:52]
Lyrics by Annalisa Tornfelt/Joe Cunningham, music by Joe Cunningham
Lift Music Flown Music (BMI) / Annalisa Tornfelt (ASCAP)

Annalisa Tornfelt (vocals), Joe Cunningham (vocals/guitar/tenor saxophone/pump organ), Reed Wallsmith (alto saxophone/background vocals), Kyleen King (viola/violin), Rebecca Sanborn (piano), Jon Shaw (acoustic bass), Ji Tanzer (drums/background vocals)

Drums/bass/piano recorded by Josh Powell at The Map Room. Vocals/strings/saxophones/pump organ recorded by Reed Wallsmith at Ekphrastic. Rainy Afternoon in Mexico City field recording by Uminari via freesound dot org. Bali field recording by Joe Cunningham.

Mixed by Todd Sickafoose at Earycanal.
Mastered by Gus Elg at Sky Onion.
Produced/arranged by Blue Cranes.


9. Favorite Son [5:05]
Lyrics and music by Joe Cunningham
Lift Music Flown Music (BMI)

Laura Veirs (vocals), Timothy Young (guitar), Noah Simpson (trumpet), Patrick Finley (trombone), Kyleen King (viola/violin), Reed Wallsmith (alto saxophone), Joe Cunningham (tenor saxophone, Hammond B3, glockenspiel), Rebecca Sanborn (keyboards), Jon Shaw (acoustic bass), Ji Tanzer (drums)

Drums/bass/keys/vocals recorded by Josh Powell at The Map Room. Strings/horns/percussion recorded by Reed Wallsmith at Ekphrastic. Guitar recorded by Timothy Young at The Paella Pit.

Mixed by Todd Sickafoose at Earycanal.
Mastered by Gus Elg at Sky Onion.
Produced/arranged by Blue Cranes.


Recorded from March 2015-September 2018
Images by Taylor Ross
CD/Digital Book Layout by Dylan Marcus McConnell

(c)2021 Blue Cranes
www.bluecranesmusic.com

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Songs and improvisations from Portland, Oregon.

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