Kneebody is one of the most potent forces in modern jazz. The combo’s bicoastal membership is divided between Los Angeles and New York, and the band translates that geographic disparity to its music, never settling in just one place. Equally rooted in the sprawling ’70s jazz fusion of electric Miles Davis, the mutated jazz-funk of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, and the looming post-rock complexity of Radiohead, Kneebody fluently speaks a hybridized language built on indie-rock and chamber-orchestra idioms.
“There isn’t a handy term or genre for the music that Kneebody creates,” writes The New York Times. “It’s a band thoroughly acquainted with 1960s free-bop, 1970s jazz rock, 1990s hip-hop, and post-millennial indie rock, along with classical post-Minimalism.”
The quintet met as teens at The Eastman School of Music and emerged as Kneebody in 2001. Finding its footing in the vibrant and mutating Los Angeles scene, the band took inspiration from a wide variety of sources, culling ideas from everyone from D’Angelo to Elliott Smith, Squarepusher to Queens of the Stone Age. The band’s anything-goes musical sensibility is the result of individualism fueling a collaborative dynamic. Because they have no designated leader – or perhaps more accurately, five individual leaders – they’ve developed an internal cueing system that signals to each member changes in tempo, key, and style.
“We are a democratic, equally owned-and-operated band with shared leadership,” says trumpet player Shane Endsley. “Everyone brings in music and everyone votes on everything.”
Which isn’t to say the five-piece is at all averse to outside collaboration. In 2009, the band earned a “classical crossover” Grammy Award nomination with vocalist Theo Bleckmen for 12 Songs of Charles Ives, and in 2015, Kneebody teamed with producer and hip-hop/electronic wizard Daedelus for Kneedelus, an LP released on producer Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder Records.
Kneebody’s latest LP, Anti-Hero, showcases the band in no less an exploratory mode. Though songs like “Profar” and “Drum Battle” fit into jazz contexts, songs like “For the Fallen” and the driving “The Balloonist” stretch into experimental and rock terrain. With his band’s sound too tough to pin down, bassist Kaveh Rastegar says they wear the jazz tag proudly, even if the ultimate aim is to subvert and expand the notions of what the genre could mean. “Personally, I think calling Kneebody ‘jazz’ or ‘electric jazz' is fantastic,” he says, “because then we can move on from that hang-up and play our music – and alter expectations of what ‘jazz’ is.”