in performance: kneebody

Kneebody. From left: Ben Wendel, Nate Wood, Adam Benjamin, Kaveh Rastegar and Shane Endsley.

Did anyone purchase candy for the show?”

That was the query of bass guitarist Kaveh Rastegar late into an engaging, inventive and refreshingly unassuming performance by Kneebody last night at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center. No one raised their hands, but the crowd brought something far more complimentary to the 90 minute concert – a host of appreciative ears for this modern thinking jazz troupe from Los Angeles.

Though terms like “prog” and “fusion” have regularly been affixed to Kneebody’s music since the band formed in 2001, what the quintet displayed last night came across as more of a cross-generational jazz summit.

In the front line of tenor saxophonist Ben Wendel and trumpeter Shane Endsley, the band had a strong traditional base. Both teamed for a host of appealing, jointly designed melodies, be they through the riffs that triggered “Profar” or the way the two bounced crisp lyrical phrases off each other during the intro to an encore version of “Nerd Mountain.”

In drummer Nate Wood, Kneebody had a potent core source for most of the material to work from, whether it was the rhythmic chatter scattered throughout “Carry On” or the crisp, rocking groove to “Uprising.” And in keyboardist Adam Benjamin, the band had the engineer of a vintage fusion sound rooted in leads and colors produced from a well worn Rhodes piano. But with a variety of accompanying pedals and effects, Benjamin also supplied the Morse code-like opening to “Unforeseen Influences” as well as the more ambient cosmos that served as a backdrop for Endsley’s playing during “Carry On.”

That left Rastegar, who was the efficiency expert of the band, to supply a foundation for all kinds of orchestrations – especially the solemn but soulful groove that anchored “Mikie Lee” and a subsequent bass solo that, with the help of a modest percussive drive supplied by Wood, emphasized groove over flash.

In short, this third performance in the inaugural Origins Jazz Series (and its first presentation of a national touring act) showcased an ensemble sound that followed the layered arrangements of Kneebody’s recent “Anti-Hero” album but with a density that was considerably more organic in design and execution.

Who needs candy when you have those kinds of treats working for you?



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