Whenever Jim Black is behind the traps, there’s a good chance some variant of drum ’n’ bass will be employed. The fine self-titled debut by Endangered Blood, however, boasts only one such funkish exercise. Still, while tenor saxophonist Chris Speed and alto saxophonist/bass clarinetist Oscar Noriega carry the roomy, lightly sketched tunes, Black and bassist Trevor Dunn are usually the focal point—Black with his taut, thwack-happy strokes, up front in the mix, and Dunn with his weighty and sometimes stormy tones.
Speed, who goes back 25 years with Black, is the leader of this group by virtue of writing all the songs save a dark, pulsating cover of Monk’s “Epistrophy.” His easygoing chemistry with the rising Noriega, known for his work in Slavic Soul Party!, creates plenty of interest of its own, whether they’re transitioning from klezmer to Trane on “Rare,” engaging in Ellingtonian noir on “Iris” or channeling Albert Ayler on “Andrew’s Ditty Variation One.”
There are times, as on the ballad “K,” when the arrangement calls for another horn to prop things up. But Speed’s occasional lack of physical presence is compensated for with Noriega’s forceful, full-bodied playing, and the pair’s unison scrambles are among the album’s high points. And with all ears on Black and Dunn, it’s easy to hear past any shortcomings.