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Who, exactly, is Kneebody?
On Kneebody's website, the bio for the Grammy-nominated, jazz-rock quintet is understandably vague: trying to summarize their music in one neat sentence (or paragraph) is no easy task. What I can tell you, is this:
- They released their first album in 2005 on Dave Douglas' Greenleaf Music label
- Their 2009 release, with Theo Bleckmann singing music composed and inspired by Charles Ives, earned the group a Grammy nomination
- Trumpeter Shane Endsley has been named one of the Top 25 trumpeters of his generation by Downbeat Magazine
- Saxophonist Ben Wendel is an award-winning composer who has performed with, among others, Ignacio Berroa, Tigran Hamasyan and Snoop Dogg (yes, that Snoop Dogg)
- Pianist Adam Benjamin has twice been named a rising star in Downbeat Magazine, has toured with Dave Douglas, Joshua Redman and Beck, and has written scores for a variety of films
- Bassist Kaveh Rastegar has played with musicians ranging from Nels Cline to Antibalas to Cee Lo
- Drummer Nate Wood is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist - on his first solo album he composes, sings, engineers and plays all the instruments
An ensemble of musicians with such an eclectic combination of tastes and experiences perhaps logically produces a diverse mix of music. Here's a teaser from their first release:
What strikes me first about Kneebody's music is that even though there is a lot going on in their compositions, it often sounds simple. The melody in this tune, for example, is fairly clear; I don't notice the various changing time signatures or shifting rhythmic patterns - and that's a good thing. It's a compliment to the musicians that they make it sound so easy.
I describe Kneebody's music in the opening paragraph of this post as "jazz-rock". It doesn't cover the full range of their repertoire, but much of their music features driving, rock-influenced beats, electric instruments (keyboard, bass, and lots of effects for trumpet and sax), and a joyful, rock-like, reckless abandon. The fusion resonates with me on a basic level - again, it's not important to know exactly what's going on in a tune if I'm grooving to the music. Check it out:
A further compliment to these musicians is the variety of styles in which they play. They're not afraid to go a bit "outside" or try something different. Their 2009, Grammy-nominated album, featuring Theo Bleckmann, is a great example: with Theo on vocals, they tackle music written and inspired by Charles Ives to great effect. These are not jazz standards by any stretch and they truly make them their own. Here's a sample:
Whether your tastes are "inside" or "far out", Kneebody will rock your socks. When they take the stage, you can count on pure energy and intensity from the first note to the last. They represent an exciting trend in jazz: great musicians, great music, and an interesting fusion of styles.