The members of Kneebody, an avant-garde jazz collective, have been playing gigs together for so long that they don't even live in the same parts of the country; they simply fly from their respective locations in New York, Los Angeles, Denver and Reno and jump on stage together whenever they book a show.
With fifteen years' worth of memorized material under their belts, trumpeter Shane Endsley says, the bandmembers pretty much know what to expect during a live performance. “We can get off the plane, get right to the gig and sound fine,” he says.
But during a show last Saturday in Seattle – the first of their current tour — bassist Kaveh Rastegar found himself exchanging wide-eyed looks with his bandmates. They were entering new territory, at times producing wild mixtures of sounds that Rastegar had never heard before.
That's because Kneebody has an unusual addition to its roster this tour: the well-known electronic beat-maker Daedelus.
In November last year, Kneebody and Daedelus released a collaboration titled Kneedelus on Flying Lotus's L.A. record label, Brainfeeder. The project stemmed from a history of one-off shows that Daedelus and Kneebody had done together over the years, as well as the fact that Daedelus and Kneebody's saxophonist, Ben Wendell, knew each other from having attended the same high school.
Now the challenge is bringing the songs of Kneedelus to the stage, an experience that Rastegar jokingly calls “warm chaos.” But he thinks that having an electronic musician playing simultaneously with a jazz collective has pushed both Daedelus and the members of Kneebody to learn from one another.
Endsley says that he can already sense that Daedelus is getting more comfortable with improvisation and soloing within the group, a process that he sees as evolving throughout their three-month tour. “Thus far, I feel like he’s been really polite with us and kind of staying out of the way. And now he’s starting to get more out there, where he’s this other voice that really surprises us and it’s great," Endsley says.
At the same time, Daedelus's expansive textures have taught Kneebody some lessons. “We’re learning how to spread ourselves out so we’re not always playing as a full band. That’s been a big thing — spreading out so we can make more room for him sonically," Endsley says. “I know it’s going to affect our music going forward."
Endsley, who grew up in Denver and moved back to the Mile High City last year to teach at Metropolitan State University, adds that he's looking forward to seeing what kind of crowd shows up to Kneebody's performance at the Oriental Theater this coming Saturday, February 27.
So far, he says, it's been an intriguing mix of jazz fans and electronic music fans, “which I think says a lot about the direction that music is going.”
Rastegar would add that he thinks the appetite for jazz fused with electronic beats or hip-hop is evidenced by the growing popularity of artists coming out of Los Angeles's beat scene. “Everyone in L.A. has been doing this similar kind of approach for a long time. You have people like Kamasi Washington, and they're hitting the national stage because it’s developed so long. I’m not surprised it’s taken off with what Flying Lotus and Brainfeeder have done.”
Kneebody sees its collaboration with Daedelus as a reflection of that trend, and Rastegar calls it “a new chapter for our band."
As for what fans in Denver can expect this Saturday, “Kneebody fans will definitely still get the interplay and dynamic feel of our concerts,” Rastegar promises. “And people who love Daedelus’s music can expect to hear the melodic and lush beauty of his music as well as the deep, bombastic grooves that he has."
With this show, the audience will get both.
Kneebody and Daedelus play the Oriental Theater this Saturday, February 27.
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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.