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Kneebody: Chapters (Edition)

A review of the quartet's latest album

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Kneebody, Chapters
The cover of Chapters by Kneebody

Moving through disparate meters, genres, and modulations with well-oiled sophistication, Kneebody upends jazz convention, morphing funk, jazz, dance, electronic, chamber, and everything in between. At the root of their sound sit the profound drums of Nate Wood. To hear him live is to understand the genesis of this multi-headed organism that rolls funky drums below and surreal melodic bursts above.

Chapters breaks no new ground for Kneebody stylistically, yet adds vocals on five tracks (Gretchen Parlato, Michael Mayo, Becca Stevens, Josh Dion), encouraging crossover possibilities. Adam Benjamin on keyboards, Shane Endsley on trumpet, Ben Wendel on tenor saxophone, and Wood—now handling both bass and drums following the departure of bassist Kaveh Rastegar—get their tranquil-meets-explosive mojo working throughout Chapters, starting with the opening track, “Spectra.”

Here, drums and bass surge and Benjamin’s Wurlitzer establishes a looping melody over which wordless Brazilian-styled vocals incant. Wood solos, Wendel blows mad tenor, Endsley blurts trumpet: It’s an anthem of forward-motion groove and ghostly melody. “What’s My Name” combines sweet vocals with disjointed beats; “A Seaworthy Native” rattles over slippery instrumental limbs; “Chapters” funks out smoothly like Bill Bruford’s One of a Kind band kicking it with Tower of Power; “Ombre” takes a sad song and makes it float and sting.

Kneebody works the zone between texture and intent as only they can. A consistently weird, obscure, but ultimately inspiring message lifts their music—the sound of a world running down, with stellar sonics and catchy melodies for all.

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Ken Micallef

Ken Micallef was once a jazz drummer; then he found religion and began writing about jazz rather than performing it. (He continues to air-drum jazz rhythms in front of his hi-fi rig and various NYC bodegas.) His reportage has appeared in Time Out, Modern Drummer, DownBeat, Stereophile, and Electronic Musician. Ken is the administrator of Facebook’s popular Jazz Vinyl Lovers group, and he reviews vintage jazz recordings on YouTube as Ken Micallef Jazz Vinyl Lover.