Group At Work: Magic In The Other

Dean Budnick on June 15, 2018

“I view Magic In The Other as a dance band, but one that touches on different emotional centers,” Ezra Lipp, the group’s founder/ drummer/songwriter, explains. “Music can relate to people in four general areas—the head, the heart, the body and the soul. That’s just as true of the Grateful Dead, James Brown and The Beatles, as it is of jazz music or classical Indian music. You can have this transcendent real-time experience, where the audience shapes the music, the music shapes the audience and everyone is collectively transformed.”

These are lofty ambitions, but Lipp doesn’t shy away from them when defining the ethos of the trio that he assembled in 2017, along with bass player Steve Adams (ALO, Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers) and guitarist Roger Riedlbauer (Jolie Holland, Mercury Falls). The project had been a long time coming for Lipp, a New England transplant who arrived in the Bay Area just over a decade ago. As Lipp established himself on the West Coast, he started receiving invitations to perform with an expanding range of artists, including Phil Lesh, Huckle and Sean Hayes. Andrew Barr even invited Lipp to sub for him during a few Surprise Me Mr. Davis gigs. (It was a particularly meaningful request since he had been fan of Barr’s band, The Slip, since his high school days).

Over the past few years, Lipp began wondering whether an opportunity might arise for him to move beyond the role of a sideman. “I even wrote this song called ‘Man Without a Band,’ which is on an album that Terrapin Crossroads put out called Buckle Up Kids, Vol. 1,” he recalls. “It’s a sad but funny song about yearning to be the main, driving, imaginative force of a project.”

Lipp finally made the leap in early 2017, drawing in Adams and Riedlbauer, both of whom he had played with on occasion, but hadn’t met each other. “Roger is a killer guitar player who lives in Oakland,” Adams offers. “He’s more in the jazz world than the Dead world—both of those worlds exist in the Bay Area, but sometimes they don’t collide as much as you might think. He’s like Bill Frisell with a punk-jazz, avant-garde approach.”

Lipp’s compositions initially focused on the instrumental side and balanced cerebral, jazzinfluenced offerings with more groove-infused expressions— not altogether dissimilar to the early work of The Slip. Increasingly, he’s been writing material with lyrics, aspiring to connect with listeners on another level. This blend will appear on the band’s debut record, which will be released later this year, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign.

As for the future, Lipp is wistful about the various ways that Magic In The Other can flourish: “There’s a thing that certain bands can do—like The Slip or Phish or the Grateful Dead—that’s about developing a relationship with the audience and a relationship with each other, and letting the music grow over time. A certain amount of creativity and imagination goes into that, which allows everything to evolve and deepen.”