(Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. 22nd November 2014. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Michael Underwood)
Last night, Kneebody performed in the UK for the first time. The band was formed 13 years ago in Santa Monica California, so the question must be: why has the UK audience been kept from experiencing this incredible band for quite so long?
Kneebody absolutely rocked Ronnie Scott’s last, playing to an audience of which only 20 percent had actually heard of the band. Drum Battle started off the gig, immediately capturing the room and launching into an eclectic drum groove with an extended horn head. Saxophonist and composer of this tune, Ben Wendel, offered up an exciting and gung-ho solo, leading seamlessly back into the melody. Reminiscent of a Michael Brecker a cappella introduction, Wendel’s solo sax intro on Still Play displayed his incredible fluency on the instrument alongside his beautiful tone and dynamic circular breathing skills. Wendel blew awe-inspiring solos all night, maintaing an energy that never seemed to lapse.
Adam Benjamin on Rhodes impressed the whole gig with his ability to non-intrusively add colour and interest to every tune. Using effects to distort and contort the classic Rhodes sound, he contributed three tunes and pulled out linear harmonic gems throughout the night.
Influenced by his home town of Denver, Colorado, trumpeter Shane Endsley’s tune Cha Cha showed off the layers within Kneebody and how everything stems from a drum and bass groove. Nate Wood is such a solid yet fluid drummer who is a master of odd time signatures and provides the perfect platform for Kneebody’s cross-rhythms and melodic complexities. Both Endsley and Wendel used effects throughout the night which gave the music a whole new dimension with etherial sounds and booming echoes. Endsley’s angular and thematically developmental solos throughout the night were a joy to listen to.
The whole band seemed to be constantly engaged with the music whether it was trumpet backings doubled in fourths behind a Rhodes solo, or Wendel playing a ride cymbal pattern over a drum groove. The band have a great sense of time, in a way that nothing ever seems too long, boring or drawn out. Everything has its place and they are masters of keeping energy and engagement at a maximum.
Bassist Kaveh Rastegar, provided just one quirky and inventive solo on the night and says of the band: “Personally, I think calling Kneebody “jazz” or “electric jazz” is fantastic because then we can move on from that hang up and play our music — and alter expectations of what ‘jazz’ is.”.
Kneebody is a shapeshifter of a band, able to intuitively chop and change with the utmost freedom whilst maintaing deep grooves, complex melodies and roaring solos. Whether it’s the secret musical cues that they have honed from 13 years of playing together or because they are a band who’s musical and non-musical personalities are stuck together like glue, they are a huge force to be reckoned with. Come back soon!