Interview | Trevor Dunn of Endangered Blood, an energetic alliance of all-stars

Trevor Dunn performs this Friday with Endangered Blood. Courtesy myspace.com/convulsivebeauty

by Luke Stewart
Editorial board

This Friday, the all-star experimental quartet Endangered Blood will perform at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, in the last of three recent shows there spotlighting young, progressive jazz musicians – all of whom happen to hail from Brooklyn. (Earlier this week, we previewed Wednesday’s Steve Lehman concert; last week Darcy James Argue performed.)

Endangered Blood – consisting of multi-reedists Chris Speed and Oscar Noriega, bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Jim Black – is sort of a collective, although Speed has written most of the music. The band’s music functions as a concerted force, always charging ahead, its trenchant rhythms snowballing into greater masses of energy.

The band is a group of friends who came together informally, and have ended up performing around the world to critical acclaim. Each member has a strong musical résumé: Dunn was a member of avant-garde rock band Mr. Bungle and has played for over a decade with saxophone trailblazer John Zorn. Speed and Black are widely respected as bandleaders, and longtime veterans of New York’s famed downtown scene, where jazz and beatnik experimentation have long commingled. Noriega was a member of the Duke Ellington Repertory Orchestra, conducted by Gunther Schuller.

As a bassist myself, I have long held Dunn in high regard (he was excellent at the D.C. Jazz Loft Series during last year’s DC Jazz Festival, when he performed with Tomas Fujwara & the Hook Up). So I was pleased to speak with Dunn in advance of Endangered Blood’s performance, where they’ll be joined for a triple-bill featuring noise artist and guitarist Noveller and the D.C. Improvisers Collective, a free jazz ensemble.

CapitalBop: How did this collective form?

Trevor Dunn: We’ve all been friends for several years and live in the same neighborhood. We were kind of hanging out more than we were playing together. Then a friend of ours became ill, and so we did a benefit concert for him, and we called the band the “benefit band,” because it was just this one-off gig. And then people kept asking us to play, and Chris started writing some music. Next thing you know, we had a record’s worth of music and we recorded it for Chris Speed’s label. Now we’ve done a couple of European tours, and gone to the West Coast a couple of times, so it’s turned into an actual band. Touring with this band is great because we all get along.

CB: How have your experiences been in the New York scene? What do you like about working there?

TD: I moved straight to Brooklyn [when I got to New York] mostly because some of the musicians who I knew were already living there. It just seemed like the thing to do. It was cheaper than Manhattan. I have to say that there’s definitely a lot more going on in Brooklyn now than there was when I first moved there. I moved to New York in 2000, and I had been going there a few years before – going to Knitting Factory in Tribeca, or Tonic. I would always get off the plane and go see some amazing music or run into somebody I knew. I was definitely getting a taste of Manhattan, even when I was living in Brooklyn the first few years. But I love Brooklyn. It’s really quiet. My neighborhood is really mellow, with lots of families. Sometimes I forget that I’m in New York, which is a good thing, but then all I have to do is get on the train and go into Manhattan and it immediately hits you in the face.

It’s funny, my parents came to visit me in Brooklyn and they were even surprised how quiet it was, and they are from a tiny town in Northern California. My block in particular is a tree-lined block with families. But even in Brooklyn, I can go around the corner and the energy changes.

CB: Do you feel that strong creative vibe that people always associate with New York?

TD: I think it still exists in the Lower East Side, but it also exists in Brooklyn. In my neighborhood, there are a lot of musicians that I see all the time. Jim Black lives a block away from me, and Chris and Oscar live really close. We often go to Oscar’s house and we cook food and hang out there quite a bit.

CB: Does the band practice together often, then?

TD: Chris and Oscar get together and work on various things. The three of us also have a quintet with Danny Weiss and Matt Mitchell playing the music of Lennie Tristano. A lot of times, Chris and Oscar will get together and work those heads [melodies]. But other times, Chris will bring in a sketch, and we’ll mess around with it. We might say, “This is awkward,” or “This is great,” and he’ll take it back and tweak it some more. That’s sort of the way this music has gone, or some of the compositions from the CD are Chris’s compositions from several years prior. We’re kind of just starting to learn and play new music that both Chris and Oscar have written. Sometimes we tweak it together as a band when we rehearse.

CB: You are someone who’s played in a wide variety of musical formats. Do you find that it’s hard for people to accept music or musicians that cross over between genres?

TD: I think people in general, their ears have started to open up more over the years. Björk is a good example of that. Her music is pretty weird, and yet it is still somewhat accessible and pretty popular. I always appreciate musicians who can do that. And I think over the past 10 or 20 years that people’s ears are opening up to exploring different aesthetics and realizing that it’s not about the style or the genre, but the energy you put into it.

When I was in high school, there was a definitive line between the punk scene and the metal scene, which to me at the time didn’t make any sense – because I was into both, and they both appealed to me in the same way. Of course, that line still exists in some parts of the world, but in general I think people are more conscious of the energy that is going into the music.

Endangered Blood performs at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on Friday, with opening sets by Noveller and the D.C. Improvisers Collective. More info is available here. Tickets are $25, or $15 for students, and they can be purchased here.

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