Hailing from the San Francisco Bay Area, Magic in the Other is the brainchild of drummer Ezra Lipp who made a name for himself as a part-time drummer with Phil Lesh & Friends at Lesh’s Terrapin Crossroads club in San Rafael. Lipp gained a fast following thanks to his dynamic playing and superb chemistry with bass wizard Lesh, conjuring visions of the Grateful Dead at their peak in the early ’70s. What’s the next step after becoming one of Lesh’s Terrapin All-Stars? Putting together your own band, which Lipp did by forming Magic in the Other in 2017 with stalwart jamrock bassist Steve Adams from Animal Liberation Orchestra and innovative guitarist Roger Riedlbauer.
Magic in the Other live shows quickly became known for the adventurous trio’s fresh sound that blends creatively jazzy jamming with infectious rock flavor and Lipp’s endearing vocals featuring compelling socially conscious themes that he somehow delivers with a lighthearted touch. There are few other modern bands that can kick out impressive instrumentals and also mix in songs with deep lyrics that express the collective anxiety about the disturbing insanity of the Trump era, while also offering optimism for the good people of America coming together to rise up and transcend the madness. Magic in the Other’s contagious sound has generated a fast following around Northern California that crowd-funded nearly $20,000 to provide the resources for recording their debut album What We Know Is Possible.
Album opener “How Is This All Ending” encapsulates the band’s vibe with a mid-tempo melodic groove that serves as a platform for Lipp’s vocals that reference the beauty of Northern California and vibrancy of the local music scene, before expressing the fear and paranoia associated with last year’s Sonoma/Napa wildfires that plagued the region: “Heavy smoke, orange glow, emergency / Get my family in the car / No time to pack, driving south uncertainly / We are spared, but others have lost everything / There’s got to be a shift, the laws of physics aren’t bending / My heart goes out to the suffering, how is this all ending?”
“Thin Veil” is the unofficial title track and another standout zeitgeist song that follows a similar formula as Lipp expresses some soul searching analysis about modern society’s growing dystopia, while also offering genuine vision for a better future: “I can stare into the belly of the beast and know its time is almost gone / For there’s a thin veil that separates what appears from what is real / It’s just a house of cards, a web of lies to distract and to conceal / But if we look towards what we know is possible we can end this whole ordeal…” The outro jam highlights Lipp’s dynamic lead percussion skills, Adams’ infectiously groovy counterpoint basslines and Riedlbauer’s unique virtuoso style that blends jazzy rhythms with bluesy psychedelic leads.
“Power of the Pelicans” has been an early fan favorite with a danceable groove that seems to nip the seminal psychedelia of the Grateful Dead’s “The Other One”, yet spins into a cinematic jam space that conjures a wider variety of influences where the band does some of their best rocking. “Loveencee” is another gem that starts with a slow simmer before percolating nicely as Adams and Lipp conjure a pulsing groove while Riedlbauer stretches out with some more psychedelia that reaches into a stratospheric realm approaching the higher vibrations of Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone From the Sun”.
The two-part “East of Change” is the best instrumental number with the trio jamming in a breezy nimble manner that sounds like it flows with effortless ease, yet is actually strongly composed. “Broke Whales” shows off how Magic in the Other could be more of a jazz trio if they wanted to, while “Child’s Tune” provides a melodic jazzy ballad of sorts that recalls the “Peanuts” theme song along with some Hendrixian chording reminiscent of tunes like “Angel” or “May This Be Love”. “Light in My Window” is a fitting album closer, an upbeat number with a feel-good vibe where Lipp expresses sentiments for overcoming both personal and societal obstacles to reach spiritual liberation.
This collection of road-tested songs forms a strong debut to tantalize listeners, but as with most improv-oriented bands, the songs take on an even deeper dimension in the live setting. Magic in the Other has yet to venture from the Golden State, but typically offer free webcasts of their shows on their Facebook page to enable listeners around the country and across the universe to check out the magic that is indeed occurring at their increasingly popular performances.