Jazz CD Reviews
Kneebody – The Line – Concord Records
Published on December 18, 2013
Kneebody – The Line – Concord Records CRS-34495-02, 57:27 [9/24/13] ***1/2:
(Adam Benjamin – Fender Rhodes, synthesizers; Shane Endsley – trumpet, effects; Kaveh Rastegar – electric bass, electric guitar; Ben Wendel – tenor saxophone, effects; Nate Wood – drums)
On their latest outing, the hour-long The Line, experimental instrumental ensemble Kneebody continues to fuse jazz, funk, rock, and electronic-influenced material into a typically, all-its-own style. Keyboardist Adam Benjamin, trumpeter Shane Endsley, bassist/guitarist Kaveh Rastegar, drummer Nate Wood and saxophonist Ben Wendel did something different this time out. As explained in a short, online promotional video, the quintet used an outside producer for the first time (long-time friend and Concord Records A&R director Chris Dunn); The Line (the band’s fourth project, although there are some live releases which are not considered official albums) also marks Kneebody’s debut on the Concord label.
The new compositions have a visceral, high-energy sense which equals Kneebody’s intense live performances. The music (12 originals penned by everyone except Wood) is enthusiastically absorbing: melodic but also harmonically complex. Anyone who knows Kneebody can attest the ensemble does not play conventional jazz; many of the rhythms reveal comparisons to rock and electronic music, and fans tend to cross over from the alt-rock audience. The five musicians most often create long-form arrangements with an emphasis on instrumental interplay and layered auditory textures, rather than individual improvisations.
The Kneebody aesthetic starts right off with opener, “Lowell,” with Benjamin’s rubbery Rhodes, Wood’s resounding backbeat and Rastegar’s intimidating bass line. Trumpet and sax maintain a dark hue which benefits Benjamin’s composition, which hints at a late-night, summer sunset Benjamin experienced while at a music workshop in Alberta, Canada. Kneebody escalate the tension even further on Benjamin’s probing “Work Hard, Play Hard, Towel Hard,” (a live version can be heard here) which he says is the attribute and attitude shared by those who “don’t want to dial it down.” This feverous and vigorous track has a slightly grainy quality, akin to the visual condition of old sports footage from decades past, and a dynamic gusto highlighted by persuasive trumpet and sax, and Wood’s idiosyncratic drums. Benjamin’s third cut, “Greenblatt,” is a subtler piece which accentuates open space and nuanced changes. The echoed Rhodes piano and Wood’s drums decelerate, while trumpet drives fluently at the forefront.
The electronic music inspiration comes to the pole position during Wendel’s “Trite,” which is anything but commonplace. In the CD liner notes, Wendel cites drummer Deantoni Parks (Mars Volta, KUDU, other projects) for his ability to mimic the hyper fast drums and bass of electronic music without effects or production assistance. While “Trite” is not as manic as what Parks has done, the cut indeed has a hurtling pace, while Benjamin crafts guitar-like noises on a vintage synthesizer: this is music with a nervous, shadowy edge closely aligned with Radiohead and likeminded outfits. Kneebody also revisits a Wendel tune, “Still Play,” which he initially did as a duet with pianist Dan Tepfer, on 2011’s Small Constructions. The newer translation is quicker and the technically challenging arrangement has an exciting temperament, with sudden shifts and rapid interaction. The title track, also by Wendel, flows with rock-chiseled apprehension. Wood and Rastegar (on electric bass) have a weighty charisma, while Benjamin also stays low on the Rhodes: although it’s not all heavy, “The Line” does have a thumping presence. Wendel’s fitful “What Was” also has an acute expression: a striated drum beat, fluctuating Rhodes, airy sax, and a free-floating foundation: ethereal but also grounded. Producer Dunn and sound engineer Todd Burke effectively capture Kneebody’s imaginative mindset and defiantly outsider-jazz outlook. This is music for discerning listeners already familiar with the band’s ideas on spontaneity and innovation. The music isn’t always “clean” nor purely audiophile-type material: sometimes there is a cloudy, deliberate veneer and at other times a basement or attic-music quality closer to indie rock than jazz, but that is also the exact characteristic which makes Kneebody so distinct and readymade for a post-jazz audience.
TrackList: Lowell; Cha-Cha; Trite; Sleeveless; Still Play; The Line; E and E; Pushed Away; Work Hard, Play Hard, Towel Hard; Greenblatt; What Was; Ready Set Go