Kneebody has been Kneebodying for over a decade and a half now, so it’s little wonder that on their sharpest record so far – an album that treats pummel with the same respect it affords ethereality – they come off sounding more like Kneebody than ever before. From Lester Young to Bill Frisell, individualism has always been paramount to artistic success in jazz, and at this late date, the quintet is instantly identifiable – focus and authority surges from Anti-Hero’s spectrum of performances.
The band continues its aesthetic of conflation. What’s in play? Rock vigor, funk rigor, and a sizable enough dollop of electronica’s textural chill to give their electro-acoustic balancing act a futuristic feel. When you’re challenging the value of genre sovereignty, as the group has from the get-go, it’s wise to make sure your swirl of sound continuously folds in on itself, rupturing the stylistic perimeters. There are few right angles in this well-conceived music; rather than have a series of distinct references flash by, each of the tracks churns with a settled mixture of ideas.
Which maybe is another way of saying their juxtapositions are wily. Saxophonist Ben Wendel and trumpeter Shane Endsley do some high-altitude skywriting over drummer Nate Wood’s primal thud on “Mickie Lee,” Adam Benjamin uses both old school acoustic piano sounds and frenzied digi-keyb flourishes on “The Balloonist.” “Austin Peralta,” the band’s elegiac farewell to a fellow LA improviser, seems like a spaghetti western theme being played as a futuristic church hymn.
The high-water marks of Curlew, the Ordinaires and a few other prog-prov outfits cast a shadow on the action of Anti-Hero, but from graceful nu-bop to fractured propulsion, this time around Kneebody assures listeners their articulation game is crazy strong.