Sixteen years in and the genre-bending electric jazz collective Kneebody is stronger than ever. On the heels of their recent groundbreaking collaboration with electronic musician Daedelus, the band returned to the studio refreshed and armed with a slate of road-tested tunes for their ninth studio album. Kneebody makes their Motéma Music debut on March 3 with the release of Anti-Hero, the pulsating result of that creative rebirth, featuring an assured set of churning backbeats and unrestrained exploration.
When Kneebody first convened in the year 2001, they were five twenty-somethings gigging around Los Angeles’ vast pockets of nightlife. Trumpeter Shane Endsley and saxophonist Ben Wendel formed the frontline, telepathic and complimentary, while keyboardist Adam Benjamin, bassist Kaveh Rastegar and drummer Nate Wood formed the rhythm section.
These five artists, all bandleaders in their own right, have become first-call musicians not only for their jazz contemporaries, but also for mainstream icons such as John Legend, De La Soul, Snoop Dogg and Pearl Jam to name a few. Yet throughout the years, Kneebody has always remained their artistic home.
It is the goal of the band to not be confined to any genre. Though they exist in an instrumental jazz world, their influences and abilities cover an enormous swath of genres from chamber pop to hard-driving electronic-based productions.
“I’ve often joked that our band is almost infamous at this point for being extremely hard to describe,” says Wendel. “I’ve always been proud of that. The music we’re doing is always new but the band itself is not new. Kneebody has always been our creative home. It’s always been the ground for us.”
The band opens with the ethereal “For The Fallen” composed by Endsley. The spiraling meditation is ominous. Endsley and Wendel weave in and out over Benjamin’s humming keyboards, never getting too comfortable, while Wood supplies a pounding backbeat for the self-titled track. Inspired by the expanding outlets for protest and specifically the 2014 battle for net neutrality, Endsley wrote the tune with a sense of empowerment. “There’s this revolution in this age that can come from our living rooms. You can launch an uprising from a coffee shop,” he marvels.
Wendel’s “Drum Battle”, which originally appeared on the band’s 2015 Daedelus collaboration Kneedelus, is a high-energy workout understandably powered by Wood’s hard-rocking kit. Benjamin takes a soaring solo on the tune that bends in and out of centuries, conjuring an electric squall squarely in the here and now.