When did people start to view jazz as safe? Most of the great jazz musicians lived on the edges of society, succumbing to heroin addiction, like Charlie Parker, or dying in other unnatural ways, like Chet Baker’s mysterious plunge from a hotel window. These artists explored the limits of music, at first by using standard, well-known Broadway tunes as platforms for their adventures and later bursting beyond form altogether—think Miles Davis with Bitches Brew or John Coltrane with Interstellar Space. Now jazz is simply something your crazy, half-deaf grandfather rants on about or—worse—elevator music. Personally I blame Kenny G for destroying the reputation of jazz, but I tend to prefer simple explanations for complex societal and cultural changes.
Thankfully, a few folks under the age of 65 still carry the torch for real jazz. Blue Cranes, a quintet from Portland, Oregon, play jazz infused with an indie aesthetic. Their latest EP, Cantus Firmus, features covers of three decidedly non-jazz tunes, including Blonde Redhead’s “Hated Because of Great Qualities.” The band preserves the contemplative feel of the original and uses the open space to explore the melody with solos and harmonized saxophones. You won’t be hearing this version when you’re put on hold calling the Buy More and that brings a warm glow to my heart. Download the track below.