Endangered Blood strikes an intimidating tone with its name, but it’s actually a reference to the short-lived Comedy Central series TV Funhouse. That irony is fitting for the band: Its members arrive bearing stacked résumés in the out-rock and contemporary jazz realm. The band’s most well-known member outside of jazz circles, bassist Trevor Dunn, has collaborated with John Zorn, Mr. Bungle, Fantômas and Melvins, but saxophonists Chris Speed and Oscar Noriega, and drummer Jim Black, aren’t exactly unknowns, either. All three play in various well-regarded combos, and Speed runs the excellent Skirl label.
But despite its members’ outré excursions beyond this quartet, Endangered Blood is about as focused and song-oriented as a contemporary jazz band can be without losing its edge.
“We’re a jazz band,” Speed told me last weekend. “We’re two saxophones and bass and drums, and there’s a certain thing that we’re going for with that instrumentation. It is what it is, and we’re not trying to be something we’re not, but to do something that’s unique to us.”
True to his words, there’s a stream of traditional jazz racing through Endangered Blood’s veins. But it doesn’t bog down the band, either. It might dip into the classics, as on the reverent revision of Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy,” which appears on last year’s self-titled debut, but the foursome doesn’t play it straight. Their “Epistrophy” is a lurching thing, shaded with darker tones than Monk’s original; it pays homage, but as Speed suggests, it shows a band that approaches standards “as open and creatively as we would with our own music.”
In their originals, Endangered Blood make space for Black and Dunn’s heavy rhythms. Black drives grooves deep into funk territory; Dunn lends enough rock heft to keep things propulsive. The reedsmen match fluid, lyrical melody with sudden bursts of frenetic free jazz. It’s a rare band with muscle and agility.
The band captures that balance on record. And it’s likely they’ll have that on stage at Motorco tonight, too. The last-minute gig arrives after a year of touring behind the record, and it’s the second show on the band’s short Southeastern tour. They plan to record a follow-up album in May, before Dunn returns to the Melvins for a few months this summer.
The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $10. Motorco will also be screening David Lynch’s 1986 thriller Blue Velvet in the main room.