allison miller

Boom Tic Boom & Blue Cranes review: BiPolar night flight

Composer/drummer Allison Miller's all-star band and Portland's own jazz explorers achieve improvisatory elevation

by MITCH RITTER

Last Saturday night at No’Po’s Alberta Street Pub in a roomful of Blue Cranes and Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom, a flock of musical explorers valved into the cramped yet acoustically balanced back-room cabaret like a dusky late summer sky turned dark with Vaux Swifts whirl-pooling wave upon individualized swallow-diving wave into the Chapman School chimney and drawing forth nearly the same volume of boisterous cheer at the scale and finesse of such a graceful feat.

Call it a bi-Polar program as NYC-based session drummer Allison Miller took her break from TV band and recording session work across a wide range of pop music to pursue her own compositional muses and record a new album with her musical collective of choice at Berkeley’s Fantasy Studios. Po’Town’s own pioneering free-form combo Blue Cranes built their focused opening set around their own recently recorded and collectively improvised piece “Polarnatt” (Polar Night in Swedish) released nationally on blue vinyl and CD by Cuneiform Records/Discs. That dynamic album’s title, Swim, resolves any question about this improvising group of composers’ ability to navigate air and sea or outside jazz and indie rock currents.

Boom Tic Boom at Alberta Street Pub. Photo: Reed Wallsmith.

Boom Tic Boom at Alberta Street Pub. Photo: Reed Wallsmith.

Like Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom, Blue Cranes’ opening set also featured a refreshingly colorful and composing drummer in Ji Tanzer. Starting off with a ruminative new piece by alto saxophonist Reed Wallsmith and currently titled “Lonely Coyote,” Blue Cranes took flight by improvising anew some pieces from SWIM, flying intuitively through some heavy Northwestern skies, shores and mournful interior landscapes on “Polarnatt.” Guest bassist Sam Howard drew lone pulsing tones like sensations of pointillistic communion through its theme, suggesting the icy flickering of stars just beyond a soft snowy night.

The Blue Cranes’ all-too-brief set also featured familiar local set pieces like Ji Tanzer’s surging composition “These Are My People” that retained its grooving organ-double bass-reedy dual sax melody line while venturing off into more concise and clipped solo-ing and sparring eddies of a wet and warming spring flow.

Blue Cranes: Reed Wallsmith, Rebecca Sanborn, Joe Cunningham, Jon Shaw and Ji Tanzer at Mississippi Studios last year.

Blue Cranes: Reed Wallsmith, Rebecca Sanborn, Joe Cunningham, Jon Shaw and Ji Tanzer at Mississippi Studios last year.

Front line horns in Wallsmith’s playful if probing alto and Joe Cunningham’s sly yet forceful tenor contrasted well from piece to piece and from inventive arrangement to fresh spontaneous improvisational breakdowns into duet, trio, quartet and eventually rejoining themes as a lithe and limber quintet.

Keyboardist Rebecca Sanborn sent some vintage organ sustains spiraling surprisingly through the room (no big bulky Hammond B2 in sight), creating a new older texture for these forward looking frequent flyers and most companionably finding Howard’s fulsome harvest of timbres and tones on double bass. Smiles of secret NW hand-shake recognition could be seen spreading around the packed standing room audience faces as local cult rock songwriter David (of Pedro the Lion band dates) Bazan’s “Harmless Sparks” came into focus despite its jazzy paradigm shift.

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