An anti-hero is a literary character who does the right thing, saves the world and maybe himself, but does all of this unconventionally. Perhaps no other band out there fits this bill to a T like the Grammy-nominated, genre-defying, electric-jazz quintet, Kneebody.
For 16 years, Kneebody’s underlying mantra has been to play music against type. In this case, just outside the limits of jazz, rock, and EDM.
L.A.-based trumpeter Shane Endsley, saxophonist Ben Wendel, keyboardist Adam Benjamin, bassist Kaveh Rastegar, and drummer Nate Wood make up Kneebody in all its twisted edges and driving, undulating currents.
The collective’s ninth studio album continues pushing boundaries but in a more subdued manner. Everything’s in the undercurrent, with the horn players serving as the driving, sometimes staccato Boho, force.
At first listen, that’s mostly what you hear: lots and lots of horns, overlaying an always-cool, rhythmic, deceptively laidback beat.
Where Kneedelus aims for powerful change, extroverted and out there on the dance floor, Anti-Hero draws its strength from within, the introverted muse before the storm, the brooding coalescing of mind over matter prior to an epic battle.
Both recordings rely heavily on the prolonged approach, pumping up the anticipation, amping up the stakes, laying the groundwork in abstract stops and starts — as if unwilling to commit fully to a specific genre, choosing to dabble in pieces of this, pieces of that.
Kneedelus’ “The Hole” does that very well, louder than the sum of Anti-Hero’s parts.
The overall vibe throughout Anti-Hero’s 10 original instrumental tracks (with one kinda vocal intro) is total and utter chill. Everything sounds smoothed over, relaxed, and innate. Kneebody workshopped most of the tunes in live performances.
“When it really works, to write collaboratively is the best thing ever,” Benjamin explained in a DL Media press release. “The five of us are totally equal in terms of our decision-making on a compositional level, performance level, even on a business level. When everything is aligned and that works well, it is the best thing ever. We all share in the process and feel responsible for the things that go well. That's what has kept it together for 16 years. We all feel like it's our baby, individually and collectively.”
A case could be made for Anti-Hero as a kind of long-running, foreign film-noir soundtrack for every anti-hero out there in film, TV, and literature — long before any action takes place.
The smooth-running machine produces such brain-twisting sound waves as the metal mind meld of “Drum Battle,” which also appeared on Kneedelus in a slightly altered version. Anti-Hero’s is less bass-funk tidal wash, more horns skipping on a favored groove with a peep of keys chirping and a whole synth trip appropriating the best of electric guitar.
A great deal of the tracks on Anti-Hero favor the horns, which is great for horn fans but maybe a little overkill for the rest of us hungry to hear the rhythm section out front.
Trumpeter Endsley contributed the all-important attention-grabber in the opening track, “For The Fallen,” catchy and grand at the same time, with hints of foreboding inching closer — that amped-up lead again.
“For The Fallen,” though, is as complete a composition as Kneebody dares, venturing confidently into jazz-fusion territory, heavy on the horns. As with the best of jazz-fusion, you can easily sink into the captivating circular swirls and strokes spinning around and around, mood music for the weary Friday night crowd, opting to stay home and … chill.
As omnipresent as the horns can be on this album, they’re spotlighted well in this opener for full dramatic effect, backlit by the steady rhythmic countenance of the modern Greek chorus of drummer Nate Wood and bassist Kaveh Rastegar.
Benjamin’s self-titled track gradually warms up. Once the horns dig in the trenches — criss-crossing like a boss college marching band on parade, contrasting nicely with the keyboardist turning his knobs and dials, there’s a free-floating, alternative world out there captured in the reverb. “It's one that we have been playing pretty regularly for the last three or four years. It was a nice feeling to record a song that was already in a fully mature phase,” Benjamin said.
“It feels to me like the best representation of what the band sounds like live in terms of a focused effort,” drummer Wood described of the album. “That keeps it not too wandering for repeated listening but it has the energy of a live show. It was an easy album to make. We can just kind of do our thing and it seems to work pretty well.”
The Kneebody Anti-Hero tour kicks off this Saturday at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.
Artists’ quotes from DL Media.