From their first, self-titled album of 2005, Kneebody has been bringing a fresh conception to fusion or electric jazz. There’s funk and rock there to be sure, but more attention is paid to crafting precocious harmonic structures, contemporary textures and collective acumen on an equal footing with individual chops. Ben Wendel (sax, effects), Shane Endsley (trumpet, effects), Adam Benjamin (keys), Kaveh Rastegar (electric bass, guitar) and Nate Wood (drums) have all made names for themselves whether as leaders or sidemen to major acts like John Legend, Pearl Jam, Snoop Dogg, etc. Since their formation about sixteen years ago, this lineup hadn’t changed and it remains a democracy.
That’s the background that goes intoAnti-Hero, their sixth studio album overall and first from Motéma Music when it goes to market on March 3, 2017. After an intriguing collaboration with IDM savant Daedelus (Kneedelus, 2015) Kneebody returns with renewed vigor putting to wax ten new tracks, most of which have been worked out on the road.
“For The Fallen” feels like quintessential Kneebody, a 21st century groove but 20th century modern jazz sensibilities, rocking but with harmonic development foreign to the form which results in a whole new music form. “Uprising” is get-down big-beat funk that doesn’t get stuck on a riff; with the sax/trumpet line taking on the lyrical role, it’s a boss update of the Brecker Brothers sound.
Importantly, Kneebody, never ever forsakes its jazz roots: just imagine the horn pattern that opens “Drum Battle” without the rhythm section and you’d be inclined to call it bebop. But Kneebody slides some busy, contemporary rhythms underneath it and totally transforms it and Wendel’s incendiary sax solo is solid evidence that the live performance energy is getting captured in the studio.
The middle three tracks artfully recast rock within their creative vantage point. Benjamin’s fuzzy Rhodes gets the spotlight on “Anti-Hero” which hints at Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. “The Balloonist” has the stomp of a Ben Folds show-closer, and “Mikie Lee” is a driving rock like Pearl Jam.
A sophisticated, almost chamber music figure led by Endsley’s trumpet and harmonized by Wendel’s sax define “Profar,” at least until midway through when Rastegar and Wood break in with a tight groove. But it soon becomes clear that the rest of the band has found a way to work that figure into the groove. The angst-y “Carry On” gets by on its dark texture alone, while “Yes You” is fueled by Wendel’s ascendant saxophone exhibition. “Austin Peralta” is a solemn, meditative ode to a promising musician acquaintance from long ago who died very young. A whole minute of silence elapses before a brief, jazzy coda ends the entire record.
Kneebody is well established at this point as one of the leaders in creative contemporary jazz, but the hunger of their early years has yet to show signs of wear. This is a band still in its peak period, and Anti-Hero is the proof of that.
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