Several questions came to mind when listening (repeatedly) to Kneebody
's latest offering, Anti-Hero
1. "Why does this feel important?"
Easy one. Anti-Hero
is by far the strongest effort yet from arguably the most original collective to strafe the jazz world in recent history. All the pheromones that make Kneebody so attractive have never been fuller in force. Next question...
2. "Is Kneebody really a band or some nefarious hive-mind experiment gone musical?"
This is a tricky one. If there weren't so much contagious spark on Anti-Hero
, it would surely be tempting to pick the latter. For a group of players to come along, so unique in their collection of musical gifts, and be so successful at expressing them with such unity of thought, purpose and identity, it almost screams "secret CIA program." Nevertheless, the benefit of the doubt should be given. Kneebody has always been about band ethos and despite uncommon egolessness in the service of the music, fear not. There's nary a hint of "Stepford-type" conformity and both collective and individual brilliance abound.
The balance is uncanny though. For each element of restraint there seems an offsetting element of exploration; for every great solo, an innovation in structure. The melodic, single-worthy alt-pop of "The Balloonist" contains within it one of the most sonically adventurous keyboard solos you might find. Turning traditional form on its head,"Yes You" starts as an incendiary, near song-long sax solo, backed only by drums and seamlessly morphs into an group end structure that derives its continuity from that solo. The wonderfully self-convoluting metrics in the intro / outro of "Profar" bookend one of the slyest groove sections ever.
The compositions on Anti-Hero
, (nearly evenly dispersed from Ben Wendel
, Shane Endsley
, Adam Benjamin
and Kaveh Rastegar
), are so well assimilated by the group identity, there's barely a tell as to their composer of origin. And don't let Nate Wood
's absence from the writing credits fool you either. His rhythmic framing, nuance, and powerful performance are all so essential to the success of all of these tunes, it amounts to much more than a writing credit ever could. Next question...
3. "Should innovative music be this fun?" "Should fun music be this innovative?"
Rhetorical maybe but, as many Pop fans suffer a fear of Jazz, often Jazz fans do sometimes suffer from what could be called "Insider Syndrome" -whereby the afflicted feel that their music is appreciated by the relative few because relatively few are savvy enough to appreciate it. This attitude may or may not contain a kernel of truth but unfortunately, it often also leads to "Accessi-phobia" -that is, the fear and/or reflexive dismissal of the accessible. Out of all their albums, Anti-Hero
perhaps shows most successfully how Kneebody may be the cure for both maladies. From flat out fist-pumpers ("Uprising") and pop anthems (Mikie Lee) to dystopian soundscapes ("Carry On") and longer-form barnburners ("Drum Battle"), each tune in this collection carries multiple genetic markers that may appeal to fans of Radiohead or Ravi Coltrane. Next question...
4. "Will I still like you in the morning?"
As instantly attractive as Anti-Hero is
, it's no quick fling. Be warned -before you know it, It will be habitually lingering in your apartment, going with you everywhere in the car, rearranging your playlists. Don't worry though, repeated listenings reveal a depth worthy of a long-term relationship (and you may just find yourself clearing out a spot for it on the best of 2017 shelf).
5. "Why don't you have it yet?"
Don't be shy -Anti-Hero
is one good time you won't have any regrets about picking up.
For the Fallen; Uprising; Drum Battle; Anti-Hero; The Balloonist; For Mikie Lee; Profar;
Carry On; Yes You; Austin Peralta.
Ben Wendel: sax; Shane Endsley: trumpet; Kaveh Rastegar: bass; Adam Benjamin: keyboards; Nate Wood: drums.