Jazz review: Endangered Blood at the Blue Whale
There was an odd congruity between the jazz quartet Endangered Blood's return to the Blue Whale and the loosely forged discontent just a block and a half away outside City Hall. While outside the hard-to-define yet determined Occupy L.A. crowd nudged toward greater cohesion as a speaker broke down the group's new rules for establishing consensus, four veteran jazz musicians were talking their own sort of revolution inside a crowded and unconventional jazz club in Little Tokyo.
Led in part by Claudia Quintet's Chris Speed, who composed much of the group's bracing debut album, the group's melodic weight is split between the two saxophones of Speed and Slavic Soul Party's Oscar Noriega, who also shifted to bass clarinet. But the key to Endangered Blood's free-swinging mania is drummer Jim Black, who has recently performed with Nels Cline as well as his own hard-hitting group AlasNoAxis. Teaming with Mr. Bungle alum and avant-jazz explorer Trevor Dunn on double bass, Black was a rhythmic anarchist all night, fearlessly punching or feathering his kit into awkward time signatures and leading the group to the edge of chaos and back with intense, wild-eyed abandon.
And while Noriega's speedy runs and Black's hard-hitting counterpunches had the group flirting with the punkish drive of John Zorn's Naked City every now and again, Endangered Blood isn't nearly as scary as its name. With Black punctuating the beat with a crinkled cymbal that looked like it was found in a parking lot, "Elvin Lisbon" had an agreeably sweet melodic drive centered on Speed and Noriega's cyclical interplay. Set-opener "Plunge" found the two horn players gliding atop a heavy-footed funk groove from Dunn and Black, who kept the ground shifting around them with a grab bag of time-warping acrobatics.
With much of the second set carrying a driving sort of swing, the group nodded toward its roots with a clattering take on "Epistrophy" balanced between Speed's woozy lead and a breathy bass clarinet from Noriega. As the two horn players clustered around a restless bass line from Dunn and an increasingly unhinged backing pulse from Black, the crowd let out occasional whoops and yelps as Monk's familiar, off-kilter melody took on a new edge with just the right mix of reverence and bravado. Amid a young crowd of beards and vintage wear more commonly seen at an indie rock show, you could feel hints of change in the air, the sort of change that shifts ideas of how jazz sounds and what a jazz club looks like. A little new blood can go a long way.
— Chris Barton
Photo: Oscar Noriega, Trevor Dunn, Jim Black and Chris Speed are Endangered Blood. Credit: Skirl Records.