Having just flown in that day from Vancouver, the four men of Kneebody settled into the KNKX studios to briefly catch their breath and play a few songs. Their new album Chapters comes out Oct. 18, and their world tour is kicking into gear.
All hands were on deck for this double decker studio session. Portland’s Trio Subtonic would play the opening role both in the KNKX studios and at their Earshot Jazz Festival show at Nectar Lounge that night.
Earshot’s John Gilbreath walked in with custom espresso orders and pastries for each band member as they worked out their sound check. We set them up with the Wi-Fi code and bathroom keys as Trio Subtonic moved in for their session performance. Kneebody sax player Ben Wendel took advantage of the break to set up his aeropress coffee tour gear, complete with his own beans and hand grinder.
When their time came to play, Kneebody were fully charged to show off a few songs from their compelling new release. Though co-founding bassist Kaveh Rastegar plays on half the album, he left the group to focus on his own new project early this year. So, the band plays some bass lines on synths and electric keys, but those sounds mostly come from the left hand of drummer and bass player Nate Wood. “Something you don’t see everyday,” says Wendel.
Wood’s right hand and feet play the drum kit, and when not playing bass, his left sometimes completes the drumming while the synth bass takes over. It’s only half of what Nate Wood does with his solo project “four,” which includes simultaneous keyboard and vocals, as well. Appropriately, Wood told us he was drawn to drum n’ bass music as a teenager.
Kneebody’s exciting music draws musical elements from modern rock, hip hop, funk and electric jazz fusion. New single “Spectra” by trumpeter Shane Endsley layers riffs from each band member, pulling them apart and bringing them together with hypnotic effect. To call Kneebody’s music “jazz,” though, isn’t entirely accurate.
Wendel says of their music, “it’s just literally an expression of what we like in the time that we’re living, and that’s it.” To a great degree, that’s what jazz should always be.
The Chapters album follows an EP of cover songs with singers from earlier this year. The five songs on By Fire inspired this fuller collection, with four of the album’s 10 tunes including vocalists. Becca Stevens and Gretchen Parlato collaborated directly with Wendel to compose new music, while guest singer Michael Mayo brought the band a song already in his repertoire.
“The song with Josh Dion we composed on the spot,” said trumpeter Shane Endsley. “It was really a new process for us.” Wendel adds, “the main influence was the singers themselves. It was fun to focus less on the Kneebody sound and focus more on these guests and find a way to bridge the gap.”
The band did not have singers with them on this tour, but will be joined by a pair of singers for a New York City release party later this year, and it’s possible one of these guest singers will join Kneebody for a larger tour next year. For now, enjoy the instrumental side of Kneebody in the KNKX studios.