Mixing jazz, funk, and electric and electronic sounds with improvisation and intricately crafted group interplay, Kneebody make a basically uncategorizable brand of exploratory jazz and rock. Post-jazz? That said, the bandmembers, who originally met at Eastman in the '90s and now split their time between Los Angeles and New York, are less traditional musicians than they are instrumental shapers of space, mapmakers charting the topographical landscape of their collective musical mind's eye. Making up that collective eye on 2017's Anti-Hero are tenor saxophonist Ben Wendel, trumpeter Shane Endsley, keyboardist Adam Benjamin, bassist Kaveh Rastegar, and drummer Nate Wood. Although they've all spiderwebbed their talents outward, establishing themselves as in-demand talents on the progressive jazz and improvisational music scene, it is with Kneebody that they are perhaps best recognized. Anti-Hero follows up their 2015 effort, Kneedelus, an expansive collaboration with electronic musician Daedelus. While Anti-Hero technically lacks Daedelus' spacy, acid-drenched electronics, it still feels deeply informed by that experience. Here, Kneebody take their standard jazz quintet instrumentation and accent it with various synths and electronic pedal effects applied to their horns and voices. Cuts like "Uprising," with its distorted, bass-heavy riff, and the propulsive, electronic dance music-informed "Drum Battle" have a hallucinatory, drug-like quality with sections that move from tightly wound interlocking riffs to spiraling, dream-state improvisations. Similarly, tracks like the menacingly determined "The Balloonist" and the soupy, sludge-laden "Carry On" work as a showcase for both Kneebody's deft arranging skills and their own distinctive, post-bop-informed solos. What's particularly pleasing about Kneebody's sound on Anti-Hero is the balance they achieve between tangible acoustic instrumentation and the more alien sounds. Listen to how the jaunty, hip-hop-inflected intro to "Drum Battle" gives way to the computer-like fractals of Benjamin's synth and Wood's kinetic EDM-style beat. Elsewhere, cuts like the opening "For the Fallen," the sparkling "Profar," and the languid, kaleidoscopic "Mikie Lee" have an organic symmetry that brings to mind a jam band take on the cyclical compositions of Steve Reich. As the title implies, Kneebody's Anti-Hero is an engaging album of instrumental jazz that achieves its goals while stridently defying convention.
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AllMusic Review by Matt Collar