Portland's Blue Cranes brings jazz odyssey to Walters Center in Hillsboro
by: Courtesy photo Portland band Blue Cranes plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Walters Cultural Arts Center in Hillsboro.

Throughout the years, Hillsboro's Walters Cultural Arts Center has played host to music from throughout the ages, from the sounds of the renaissance to throwback groups that cater to nostalgia with soul and pop sounds that tickle the ear with familiarity.

Portland jazz quintet Blue Cranes, which plays the center on Friday, is composed of musicians who have a mastery of tweaking the familiar and taking it into completely different and unknown territories. Even the band's most ardent fans take distinct pleasure in the group's ability to take even its most familiar songs and guide them into completely different directions.

The band's influences - which range from classical to rock and pop - dictate much of the group's sound, but it's an even more essential element that the band draws on to keep things fresh in a genre where no two shows sound the same: the audience.

'The songs we play have a lot of spaces in them. We play them in different ways depending on the audience, and what the room is like,' says founding member Reed Wallsmith. 'It always depends on what the space is like. It's fun to present something that people aren't expecting.'

Since debuting in 2007, the Cranes - alto saxophonist Wallsmith, tenor sax man Joe Cunningham, keyboardist Rebecca Sanborn, bass player Keith Brush and drummer Ji Tanzer - has released six acclaimed records, including last year's 'Cantus Firmus.' The five-piece outfit is currently recording a new album, tentatively scheduled for release later this year.

Those who are weaned on the group's studio output, however, are in for a treat with the Walters Center show. The Cranes use the templates of their jackknifing jazz compositions as springboards into uncharted musical territory. Not even the group knows how the middle sections of each song will sound until each member finds himself or herself deep in an odyssey of improvisation.

'It's hard to play the exact same way all the time. I'm really thankful that there's a lot of space where we can change all the time,' says Wallsmith. 'That makes us a jazz band, but we'll compositionally and musically pull from rock and modern classical stuff. Improvising and being able to change our music is really important.'

Improvisation is something employed by many groups, but Wallsmith credits much of the group's ability to stay together as it musically wanders to the fact that, along with being masters of their respective instruments, the Cranes are a close-knit musical family.

'[It's] important to have people who you connect with really well musically, but also who are your best friends,' says Wallsmith. 'We wouldn't still be together if we didn't really like each other. The camaraderie is what really keeps it going.'

Friday marks the band's first trip to Hillsboro, and Wallsmith says the audience can expect a signature Cranes show full of musical experimentation, solid grooves, classical stylings and sounds that literally have never been heard before.

'We've been really amazed with our ability to appeal to a lot of different age groups and different parts of the country,' says Wallsmith. 'We try to listen to what people want, and we play for them.'

Hear them

What: The Blue Cranes

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20

Where: Walters Cultural Arts Center, 527 E. Main St., Hillsboro.

More info: 503-615-3485

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