Aaron Cohen - Downbeat "Kneebody Creating a New Language" 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."