Kneebody
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Kneebody

| INDIE | AFM

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At first, it seems that Kneebody chose a name that intentionally invited anonymity. After speaking to a couple members of the quintet, it becomes clear that they also took a firm stance against presenting a single bandleader. Equally crucial is that they wanted to invent a word that conveys no preconceived musical connotations.
"It's a nonsense word that my girlfriend came up with," said saxophonist Ben Wendel. "We wanted a short, memorable word with a nondefinable genre connection."
This collaborative dismissal of categorical purity runs throughout Kneebody's self-titled debut on Greenleaf Music. Serene keyboard and woodwind lines are played on top of driving rock drums. Orchestrated electronic noise flows into classically formed melodies. Each musical shift is episodic, rather than merely contrasting.
Kneebody's hybrids stem from influences on both American coasts. Wendel met trumpeter Shane Endsley, keyboardist Adam Benjamin and bassist Kaveh Rastegar when they all attended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., during the late 1990's. As the individual musicians migrated among different jazz, rock and hip-hop groups, they performed together as a part of a weekly residency at the Temple Bar in Santa Monica, Calif., with drummer Nate Wood. "We basically wanted to do stuff that was less about standard form," Wendel said.
All of which requires some rules to make it continually interesting. So Kneebody created their own. Along with the musicians' compositions, they devised a language based on musical cues that each intrumentalist recognizes as a signal for immediately changing direction.
Endsley describes how this works in terms of his composition "Break Me". "I wanted to have a middle section where we overdub these different layers and there's these short things going in and out," Endsley said. "So it's faster paced than what would normally be a solo section where it's one person at a time standing. We jump in and out and on top of each other, like people playing drum 'n' bass, but not with that stylistic sound."
While most of Kneebody has remained in the Los Angeles area, Endsley lives in Brooklyn. Trumpeter Dave Douglas started paying attention to him a few years ago and then asked if he had any projects for his recently launched Greenleaf Music label. As it happened, Kneebody had just finished recording its CD and Endsley presented it to Douglas.
"Their music is a great direction for jazz musicians to go," Douglas said. "It's spontaneous and exciting. The writing is fresh, and the way they integrate it with improvising is unique."

-Aaron Cohen
- Downbeat


with such a range of artists - Ani DiFranco to David Murray to Jurassic 5 - that it's tempting to write them off as another multi-hypenate in jazz's crossover era. But eclecticism isn't the point of their music, which sounds too convincingly effortless to be a self-conscious fusion. In fact, their debut on Dave Douglas' new label reinforces just how meaningless the F-word has become.

Kneebody bolts out the gate with "Break Me," a fuzz-tone funk tune by
trumpeter Shane Endsley that twists through a quick succession of formal convolutions. This immediately established the band's rhythmic prowess: Bassist Kaveh Rastegar, keyboardist Adam Benjamin and drummer Nate Wood establish a pocket and hold it tight, no matter what else happens in a tune. And that's saying a lot, considering that the band's originals rarely seek the comfort of a straightforward groove. This is especially true of those by Endsley and tenor saxophonist Ben Wendel - like a stutter-stepping "Coat Rack" and a Return to Forever inspired "Never Remember."

The full impact of Kneebody is in the ensemble. Their cohesive poise is what sells the experiment, which will hopefully yield another record
soon.

Jazz Times - Nate Chinen - Jazz Times


Rock, funk and electronic music commingle convincingly with jazz on "Kneebody" (Greenleaf), this quintet's recent studio debut; it's an update of the rugged, exploratory early fusion of Weather Report and Return to Forever, and just as likely to sound better live. - New York Times


The next major quake to hit LA may have less to do with shifting tectonic plates than with a crackling quintet thundering up the jazz charts with a powerhouse collection, at once challenging and accessible. Kneebody’s eponymous album floats like an iron butterfly and stings like a diesel. “It’s got a lot of testosterone. It’s a very energetic sonic experience,” says resident reedist Ben Wendel. And while their unique soul-jazz-on-steroids sound captures a growing cadre of Knee-heads, their beautifully crafted melodic ballads, and moody impressionistic sketches are the guilty secret.

Formed by Wendel, drummer Nate Wood, bassist Kaveh Rastegar, trumpeter Shane Endsley, and keyboardist Adam Benjamin, Kneebody runs jazz through a broad collective musical background to create a remarkably potent blend whose primary flavor remains jazz. “I’ve been describing our music as hybrid music,” Wendel explains. “We’re musicians that have have absorbed a lot of different styles of music. We’re just trying to make music that is an amalgamation of what’s around us now, just like everybody’s done from whatever era they’re coming up from. So, this music is a hybrid of all the tastes we like.”

“The cool thing about this band is, everyone in the band writes and everyone has a distinct voice,” enthuses Wendel. “Not everyone in this band is coming primarily from a jazz background. Everybody’s coming from different places. We’ve all studied jazz, we all understand the language and are able to express the complexity of jazz. But then, as much as we love jazz, everybody also has equal interests in other genres of music. In my own background, my mom was an opera singer for 25 years. She sang with LA Opera. Different sounds, different sections, it’s like the process of five different musical viewpoints coming together. This band is a leaderless band. This is an equal parts ownership kind of group.”

Keyboard player Adam Benjamin agrees. “It’s such a fundamental part of our music that any of us can control the direction of it at anytime, which is why I think our live show is pretty consistent. On any given night there’s going to be one or two of us that really feel strong enough and confident enough and creative enough to do a lot of the leading. You never really know who it’s going to be in a particular song. It’s really exciting.”

“It’s a very energetic thing, especially live. The last few tours we’ve been really having fun. I think that Nate, Kaveh, and I as a rhythm section, especially with Kaveh and I playing a lot of electronics and effected sounds, really try to think of it as though we’re one unit of sound. Often it’s difficult even for us to tell with particular tones, who in the band it’s coming from. That’s really what we aim for, something where we could really get outside of our established personalities as jazz musicians and form a real identity as a band which we fit into in a very particular way.”

A listen to Kneebody, only the second release on Dave Douglas’ new label, Greenleaf, gives clear context to the musicians’ infectious enthusiasm. In the course of 12 original songs, Kneebody makes a strong case for their ear-loving take on 21st century jazz.
“You can’t escape the instrumentation,” says Wendel, “it’s a jazz quintet. But we’re not playing the traditional music you would associate with a jazz quintet. It’s funny how things change over time. I’m playing an instrument from the 1960’s. He’s playing something else, those same instruments were playing completely different music 50 years ago than they are now. It’s kind of fun that way. I like how music inevitably evolves to fit the sounds around it.
“We didn’t know how people were going to react to this music because obviously it’s not like swing. But it’s been positive. I think regardless of what people enjoy aesthetically, it’s hard to deny music that’s good on an energetic and technical level. These compositions are complex but accessible and you can tell everyone in the band is trained and studied this music. So, for someone just listening to it, or even for a more traditional hardcore jazz fan, generally they have a positive reaction hearing this band.”

They’ve honed their obvious rapport through a lengthy association. “I had gone to Eastman with Ben and Kaveh,” recalls Benjamin. “I transferred out of Eastman to CalArts, meant Nate and the whole year I was at CalArts I had this idea of putting the four of us together, because I think it matched up really well stylistically. Luckily it ended up that Ben and Kaveh decided to move to LA after graduating Eastman. Nate was staying here to finish up school and had already been working here a lot. So, we really got to do a lot of regular playing early on, before we even really took the band seriously. We played weekly at a coffee shop at UCLA, later on weekly at the Temple Bar. It was a year or so before we really felt there was a chemistry there, which is strange. Once it hit then we really got excite - All About Jazz


I've listened to the music of kneebody several times, and it's something I can't easily categorize. Is it indie fusion? Alternative wordless funk infused with inventive solo statements? Or because the group employs daring improvisations and evokes any number of originals from John Zorn's Naked City to Carla Bley, maybe it's best billed as jazz. "This is 'new instrumental' music," says Shane Endsley, a Park Hill native whose trumpet tears through many a skillful solo on kneebody's self-titled debut CD. "It's jazz-oriented, but I don't think of it as 'jazz,' really. If I say it's jazz to the KUVO audience, they'd be surprised at our shows." I'd argue that the more open-minded KUVO listener would find much to admire in kneebody's work, particularly its smart arrangements and rockish song structures, which, on disc, provide for many engaging moments. The CD is one of the most striking debut efforts in recent memory, and it's been awarded a pedigree of sorts by being released on the Greenleaf Music label, which is run by cutting-edge trumpeter Dave Douglas. The signing to Douglas' label was "kind of lucky," according to Endsley. "He saw me (perform) on a good night and then called me out of nowhere" in search of a new project for his label. As it turned out, the kneebody disc was already finished. "We had recorded it in bits and pieces on our own. But releasing it on Greenleaf will help us with the credibility thing." Endsley is another Colorado-bred musician seeking his fortunes away from home. He lives in New York for family reasons while the rest of kneebody is based in Los Angeles. "It's a little frustrating because we want to play together a lot (this week's Dazzle shows will be their first performances as a group since the disc was released last month). But luckily it hasn't been too much of a hindrance." Before New York, he was part of the L.A. music scene, which he claims includes many a Denver-area native. "Denver's making a big mark," he says of Los Angeles. "Other musicians call players from Colorado the 'Denver Mafia."' One of Endsley's compositions on the CD is titled "Break Me."

By Bret Saunders
Denver Post - Denver Post


Like fire and ice, the two emerging bands that played Wednesday night at HotHouse hardly could have been more diametrically opposed.

Yet despite stylistic differences, they shared at least one critical trait: Each was determined to toss jazz convention to the winds and did so with unmistakable eloquence.

Dutch saxophonist Jorrit Dijkstra created the Flatlands Collective not long after he moved to to the U.S. in 2002 and began collaborating with Chicago musicians. But if the Midwest's topography inspired the name of the band, it had scant effect on the nature of Dijkstra's music, which was anything but flat.

Richly textured, subtly nuanced and built on multiple layers of melody, the music of the Collective merged the free-thinking nature of the Chicago avant-garde with elements of contemporary European classical composition. Much of this music suggested an intensely cerebral exercise, with carefully engineered stop-start rhythms, delicate dabs of electronically produced sound and a nearly complete avoidance of a straightforward beat.

When the band ventured into the occasional swing passage, one was startled to hear it, since practically everything else about this ensemble steered clear of the jazz mainstream.

If at first the music sounded so diffuse and muted as to lack coherence, before long the repertoire became more lucid and structured (or did our ears simply become adjusted to its aesthetic?). The other-worldly hums and drones that Dijkstra produced on lyricon, which might be described as a kind of digital clarinet wired to a computer, were answered by pungent bursts of dissonance from the rest of the band in a piece titled "Slitch."

And in the last work of the set, "Dipje," the band produced the exquisite blends of instrumental color one might sooner expect from a classical chamber ensemble.

In the end, the Flatlands Collective linked the intellectual firepower of the Dutch free-jazz scene with the instrumental virtuosity of some of Chicago's most accomplished creative improvisers, including trombonist Jeb Bishop and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm.

Though the band still must be considered a work-in-progress, it deserves respect for the unorthodox musical direction it's pursuing.

If the Flatlands Collective aimed for a studious brand of jazz, the comparably adventurous Kneebody--making its Chicago debut--strove for a much more visceral, accessible, beat-driven sound. Though not exactly dance music, the band's rock-tinged backbeats, back-to-basics riffs and motor-rhythm passages suggested it was playing for an audience that approaches jazz from a pop perspective.

Even so, there was much more here than a casual listening might suggest. Just when the band seemed to be sinking into a rhythmic groove, it sabotaged expectations by changing or suspending its tempo or meter. And by juicing up its acoustic work with keyboard electronics and other computer-processed sound, Kneebody italicized its every gesture.

Some of the most impressive work came from keyboardist Adam Benjamin, who produced a galaxy of space-age sound, while trumpeter Shane Endsley and tenor saxophonist Ben Wendel formed a taut and muscular front line.

-Howard Reich
- Chicago Tribune


Giving the modern jazz world a much-needed kick in the ass, Kneebody has assembled a quirky brand of improv-based crossover jazz that's as refreshing as it is expressive. The New York/Los Angeles-based quintet's sound, which borrows equally from traditional jazz, hip-hop, rock and electronica, is anchored by hard-hitting beats and bass lines and tastefully bolstered by soulful '60s horn lines and ambient electronic noises. This unique approach reflects the diversity and experience of the individual members (keyboardist Adam Benjamin, bassist Kaveh Rastegar, drummer Nate Wood, saxman Ben Wendel and trumpeter Shane Endsley, a Denver native) -- who collectively have backed an assortment of artists such as Snoop Dogg, Ani DiFranco, Chaka Khan and Ravi Coltrane, among others. And unlike a lot of neo-jazz fusion groups, Kneebody's penchant for the groove never gets tedious. Although the players are apt to change keys or tempos at will -- they've developed a unique system of cues that they employ live to keep the arrangements fresh and evolving -- you don't have to wade through ten-minute-long atonal freakouts just to get back to the original jam. - Westword


consumed the mesmerizing organic grooves. This outstanding ensemble told an evocative story with a single, unified pulse to every single person in the room, at the bar and standing outside on the sidewalk - possibly even some across the street and down the block.

Kneebody is one band trapped in five people's bodies, each forming a tantalizing whole by the time it meets the ear. Kaveh Rastegar levitates on Bass, and if you don't know what a bass is, look for the tall guy with the mischievous smile. He'd be the one laying down the grooves and sending out the "Check this out" vibe. On drums was Scott Seiver reinventing the pocket and, best of all, LISTENING! To complete the rhythm section, Adam Benjamin performed on Fender Rhodes with all the style, fluid finesse and virtue of the monster acts he's toured with (Charlie Haden, Bob Brookmeyer, and Benny Carter). The horns players are the band's namesakes Ben Wendel on Saxamaphone, and Shane Endsley on Trumpet. This powerful combination reminds me of Wynton and Branford Marsalis giving anyone who listens the feeling that they have played together their whole lives, complementing and enhancing each other's notes, to their fullest potential.

The music was awe inspiring and reminiscent of Charlie Hunter's Quartet but with an undeniable Hip-Hop element not dissimilar to D'Angelo's Voodoo. Indeed the music lends itself to few outside influences and can only be traced to each member striving for the next level of creativity and musicianship. The set opened with "Song 4" beginning with a short, repeated phrase, which later graduated and expanded using the same theme. The repeated phrase became the ostinato in the rhythm section. The groove was so tight it sounded like the best take of a studio session, with perfect time, pensiveness and surgical accuracy in each note. Without introduction, the group began new feels and directions into tunes with brand new sycopations and abstract feel which slowly melted into an intense piece of audio therapy. At this point we entered the realm of absolute captivation and meditation... to the light, to the light! Although the music had the personal stamp of each player, it was as if a musical Ouija board were guiding the hands (and feet) of the bandmates. Nobody had a clue, even them, about where it would end up. Except that they did. Winding towards the close of the already short set, the horns began somber and quiet long tones tricking the audience into a thinking a ballad was eminent...enter the drums with a high-paced and busy jungle beat. Even my Mother couldn't sit still. By this time, we all felt that we had somehow experienced some new musical (and mathematical) truth.

Kneebody has an epic, transgenerational gravity. As a reviewer I'm supposed to point out the things I like and don't like about a group. In this case I am at a loss, this is the best band I have seen in Los Angeles and there was nothing I didn't like. Be sure to see them before they're a legend.
- LA Music Scene


Discography

"Low Electrical Worker" Colortone Music 2007(colortonemedia.com)
"Kneebody Live: Volume One" Colortone Music 2006(colortonemedia.com)
"Kneebody" Greenleaf Music 2005 (greenleafmusic.com)

Photos

Bio

Kneebody represents the state of the art in genre-bending postmodern
creative music. On stage, the band combines sophisticated instrumental
compositions and virtuosic improvising, never failing to astonish even the
most discerning ears.

Kneebody effortlessly blends seemingly limitless influences (from Hendrix
and Aphex Twin to Reich and Ellington) into a cohesive voice at once
singular and familiar. For five years running, their incomparable success at
combining the depth of jazz, the swagger of hip hop, and the conviction of
rock has cultivated a loyal fan base in the U.S. and Europe. As one devotee
put it, “If you’re a Kneebody fan, you’re a fanatic.”

Kneebody will release Low Electrical Worker, their stunning new collection of 13 instrumentals, in early 2007. Kneebody is a Los Angeles/New York-based quintet featuring present and former members of Dave Douglas' Keystone Band, Ignacio Berroa, Ani Difranco, Snoop Dogg, Dakah, Steve Coleman, Ravi Coltrane, Daedelus and more...

2007 HIGHLIGHTS:
-Invited by Kent Nagano to direct a new collaborative festival in Munich, Germany that will feature Kneebody in collaboration with significant jazz and chamber music artists from New York and Europe.
-The North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, Netherlands
-SF Jazz Festival in the Fall
-Stanford Jazz Workshop and Festival in July