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April 5, 2012

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Endangered Blood

“Endangered Blood”

(Skirl)

The divide between jazz and rock has been bridged frequently since Miles Davis’s fusion period starting in the late 1960s, including notable forays from The Lounge Lizards and John Zorn’s schizophrenic thrash-jazz group Naked City. One thing in common with those configurations is the incorporation of electric instruments. The Brooklyn quartet Endangered Blood delivers its own particular jazz-rock odyssey solely with acoustic instruments, avoiding typical fusion methods and demonstrating a subtlety that reflects experience while keeping things interesting and exciting.

Endangered Blood’s self-titled debut album features compositions from Chris Speed, one of the band’s two saxophonists, with room for the performers to stretch.Saxophonist and clarinetist Oscar Noriega is a perfect fit for Speed, with tight, tandem playing and a sense of balance.  Trevor Dunn, best known for being a founder of the insane, unclassifiable cult band Mr. Bungle, plays double bass with nimble plucks and a restless, fluid style. But of the four players, the one who lends the most to providing the rock attitude is drummer Jim Black, who avoids the constant-ride-cymbal-tapping thing and gushes forth with a barrage of styles and quick snare/bass drum exchanges, even supplying some choice bursts of jungle breakbeats.

“Taco at Oscar’s” begins with an array of tom hits in a speedy lurch that becomes chaotic, and it’s a good showcase of the quartet’s dexterity and restraint, particularly in the brassy sax solo that finally erupts in ultra-high-frequency squawking. “Valya” starts in a mysterious way with wispy, tip-toeing notes and a light sound-fog, featuring slow trills, brushed drums, and gentle dissonance. The Thelonious Monk standard “Epistrophy” is presented with a menacing manner, and “Andrew’s Ditty Variation One” is the closest that the quartet gets to rocking out, with unstoppable vamps and stimulating drum-and-bass patterns.  

Endangered Blood demonstrates that you don’t necessarily need aggressive hard-blowing, disorderly free jazz noise, or an electric fusion approach to make rock-infused jazz that’s worthy of attention.

The Wedding Present

"Valentina"

(Scopitones)

“All the songs sound the same”―that was the cheeky, sort-of-true self-assessment from the British group The Wedding Present in its earlier years, and that phrase actually adorned certain band t-shirts and served as the title of an EP.  Led by singer/guitarist David Gedge, the band’s only consistent member, The Wedding Present emerged from the post-post-punk and C86-pop eras in the mid-‘80s with an immediately recognizable style, featuring a rhythm-guitar-heavy propulsion (occasionally shifting into impossibly fast super-human strumming speeds) and Gedge’s distinctive enunciation, which might best be described as “very British.”  For this writer, the group’s apex remains its 1991 album Seamonsters, recorded skillfully by Steve Albini and featuring big payoffs and a powerful sound, complementing the often emotionally devastating lyrics.

After over a quarter-century since forming, The Wedding Present has released its eighth proper album, Valentina, and the band’s evolution has been subtle and gradual over the years.  Valentina bears a little more melodic pop influence, perhaps a remnant of Gedge’s past diversion as front man of the pop-oriented band Cinerama, and less of the frantically onanistic strum-mania of earlier songs, and bassist/vocalist Pepe le Moko adds a bit of flavor with her vocal flourishes, like her German responses in “The Girl from the DDR.”  The album’s opener, “You’re Dead,” centers on low and mid-range frequencies, with floor tom beats and anchored electric guitar riffs, and the upbeat “Back a Bit…Stop” is a welcome, rousing tune with a driving fuzz bass, ending with one minute of overdriven guitar distortion.

Lyrically, Gedge unfortunately seems to be treading water; true, nearly all relationship-themed songs are bound to go into at least somewhat familiar territory, and Gedge doesn’t quite use a spark, twist, or nuanced delivery to make much of a difference.  “You Jane” brings to mind the indignation of Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” but without the potency, using lyrics like, “There’s really no need to explain / He’s Tarzan and you’re Jane.”  For fans, Valentina offers enough to make it an enjoyable listen and proof that this stalwart band still has a vigorous pulse, but without more distinctive, resonant moments, it’s a lateral move.

by

April 5, 2012

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