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Kneebody has had many labels thrown at it, but none seem to fit. That said, the members of the transcontinental quintet (whose new album, Low Electrical Worker, is due next month) haven't exactly gone out of their way to make it easy for folks to pin down their shapeshifting sound. Thanks to a system of musical cues they've developed that allows each player to tweak nearly any element of any given song -- be it volume, orchestration, tempo or key -- the act's arrangements change constantly and zigzag through various vibes and moods. We asked trumpeter Shane Endsley to give Kneebody's chameleon-esque style a name and to explain how he and his bandmates cue-municate with each other.
Westword: Say you're talking with someone who's never heard you guys before. How do you describe exactly what you do?
Shane Endsley: Well, if I have to give a quick answer, the thing that I've been saying is "electro-acoustic instrumental music." I try to avoid the stylistic references. A lot of times, we've been labeled as funk jazz or fusion or post-jazz -- all these different things. But nothing seems to ring well. So I've been saying electro-acoustic instrumental music. And hopefully that covers it.
I was reading about how you use musical cues, which I think you borrowed from Steve Coleman, right?
Yeah, he's one of the guys I played with. He would do a couple of things. He had something that he would play for stopping the band and for changing tempo; there would be little things like that that would happen. That's more of a direct influence. But it's the kind of thing bands have been doing for a long time. Like, every band has its own language of cues for when it's the last time, or when you're going to vamp and all that stuff.
With our stuff, we're just starting to think about it and trying to expand it into this, like, whole system that would encompass any element of the music you would desire to shift at any point if you were thinking as a producer or an arranger-type head. So now we've expanded it so that anybody can cue the music. It doesn't have to all come from one person. And it can change anything, like volume, or the orchestration, or the tempo, the key -- just trying to cover everything. Like if you're on a vamp and want to cue chord changes, can you do that somehow? So there's, like, twenty of them.
I also read that when you guys compose stuff, you don't actually write anything down. So it's all pretty much by memory?
Well, whoever wrote it usually has his sketch, so they can refer to it if we forget parts. But we don't take the time to write lead sheets, usually, or parts, because we don't use them. So usually someone has his little sketchpad, and they're teaching the thing to everybody, one at a time. And then we try to learn each other's part so that hopefully we can switch. As much as we can, we try to get the music more and more modular.