Kneebody's tenth studio album, 2019's Chapters, is one of their most accessible albums to date, featuring a handful of guest vocalists on songs that ably straddle the line between hooky post-rock and exploratory jazz. It's an aesthetic the forward-thinking Los Angeles outfit featuring saxophonist Ben Wendel, trumpeter Shane Endsley, keyboardist Adam Benjamin, drummer/bassist Nate Wood, and bassist Kaveh Rastegar have been forging since the early 2000s, combining fusion-esque group arrangements with propulsive exploratory improvisation. Chapters is no exception and in many ways showcases an almost perfect balance of compositional songwriting, post-bop soloing, and lyrical vocal melodies. The latter commands the most attention here as Kneebody bring on board guest singers Michael Mayo, Gretchen Parlato, Josh Dion, and singer/guitarist Becca Stevens, each of whom either wrote or co-wrote their song. All of these singers have a slightly different style and overall vibe, allowing Kneebody to color their sound in different ways. Mayo's "What's My Name" has a flowing, contemporary R&B feel that Kneebody accents with a skittering electronic-inspired groove. Conversely, Stevens' introspective "Wounds Let the Light In" features her circular guitar arpeggio and hushed vocals framed in vibrant trumpet and sax harmonies and spiraling keyboard solo, all of which brings to mind Joni Mitchell's work with Wayne Shorter. Kneebody splits the difference with Parlato's yearning "When It All Comes Down," a slowly rolling anthem punctuated by gorgeously attenuated trumpet and sax accents, and dapples of spacy digital keyboards. There are also plenty of engaging instrumental tracks on Chapters, including the fuzz-tone raga of "Spectra," "A Seaworthy Native" with its angular post-bop melody set against a cacophonous metallic funk rhythm, and the expansive "Ombre" with its languorously woozy horn and keyboard lines evoking Circle in the Round-era Miles Davis. The juxtaposition between the instrumental and vocal tracks works nicely, and Chapters manages to be both surprisingly risk-taking and accessible at the same time.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar