Work Your Magic is the sophomore follow-up to Endangered Blood's self-titled 2011 Skirl Records debut. The acoustic quartet features an all-star lineup, with Human Feel's Chris Speed and Jim Black joined by fellow Skirl label mates Oscar Noriega and Trevor Dunn. First named The Benefit Band, the group was initially formed in 2008 to help Human Feel saxophonist Andrew D'Angelo pay for medical bills; D'Angelo eventually recovered and the band decided to stay together.
Subtly expanding upon its previous release, the ensemble extends the piano-less quartet tradition pioneered by Ornette Coleman in a stylistically eclectic, albeit sonically cohesive fashion. Facilitating a wide range of tone colors for their adventurous excursions, Speed and Noriega each double on instruments; Speed contrasts his robust tenor saxophone playing with lissome clarinet refrains, while Noriega alternates between sinuous alto saxophone variations and exotic musings on bass clarinet. Conforming to the unit's deliberately unamplified palette, Dunn plies nimble contrabass lines that perfectly underscore Black's engagingly rambunctious polyrhythms, their unified sense of timing impeccable, yet pliant.
Although Noriega contributes the dolorous "Nice Try," Speed once again acts as the group's primary composer, with a rousing cover of Icelandic guitarist Hilmar Jensson's "International Four" rounding out the program. The minimalist repetition of interweaving contrapuntal lines is one of Speed's preferred structural devices, as hypnotic tunes like "Kaffibarinn" and "Ah-Le-Pa" bear out; the lush instrumental latticework of the former and fervent rhythmic break-down in the latter keenly demonstrate the strength of his writing. Similarly enthralling, the cubist theme of "Manzanita" culminates in a state of anthemic fervor, bolstered by Noriega's caterwauling bass clarinet, while the nostalgic closer "LA#5" offers a modernistic spin on old-fashioned balladry, spotlighting Speed's languid tenor channeling Lester Young's breathy lyricism.
One of Endangered Blood's most salient traits is its dedicated embrace of improvisation within the context of composed forms, an aspect not as readily apparent in some of the members' flagship bands; Black's AlasNoAxis and Speed's yeah NO rely primarily on prewritten frameworks, with limited space allocated for spontaneous detours. Work Your Magic inverts that dynamic, especially on traditionally minded pieces, including the deconstructed "Blues in C Flat Minor" and the muscular swinger "Argento," which allow these talented soloists ample opportunity to shine on their respective instruments, echoing the album's title with mantra-like sentiment.
Kaffibarinn; Blues in C Flat Minor; Ah-Le-Pa; Argento; Manzanita; Nice Try; International Four; LA#5.
Chris Speed: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Oscar Noriega: alto saxophone, bass clarinet; Trevor Dunn: bass; Jim Black: drums.