I was assigned to speak about the future of jazz in my jazz history seminar. Each student gets 10 minutes to highlight a band or artist who's been active in the last 10 years. Here's what I have to say.
The future of an art form is difficult to predict. The trends and patterns that allow foresight in technology, economics, and politics are conspicuously absent in the arts, particularly jazz. There are no elegant solutions to problems everyone is thinking about. The course of the genre has always been determined by individualist newcomers who force their listeners to rethink how they hear. These innovators materialize out of nowhere. There is no predicting what the next jazz giant will sound like. That is up to the future giant. All we can predict is who among today's active players will influence the next generation of players. And that is up to the next generation of players.
I started listening to Kneebody two years ago. They are Adam Benjamin on keyboards, Shane Endsley on trumpet, Kaveh Rastegar on bass, Ben Wendel on saxophone, Nate Wood on drums. Each member has been developing his own career with a variety of projects since attending CalArts and/or Eastman in the late '90s. They blend elements of jazz, rock, funk, and hip-hop. That's been done before. But Kneebody's different. I've always loved jazz and rock, but I wasn't deeply affected by previous attempts to draw from both. (I dig Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, Weather Report, but the jazz and rock elements of their varied fusions didn't go together as well as I'd hoped.) Kneebody's fusion, on the other hand, sounds seamless and natural to me. It has the improv and angular lines (and the trumpet and sax harmonies) from jazz, the aggressive over-driven sounds from rock, and some damn tight funk grooves.
All five members write music for the band, and although their compositions are often quite complex, everything is memorized. To grease the transitions between improvised and orchestrated sections of a song, they developed a language of musical cues with which they communicate structural shifts within a tune on the fly.
From their label, Green Leaf Music:
Their musical cues are among Kneebody's most inventive contributions. Kneebody first began using musical cues when Endsley wrote "The Slip", a piece that involved a cuing system adapted from his experience in Steve Coleman's band. Soon the band saw the great potential in these cues, both in subtly directing the band's improvisation and facilitating unexpected twists and turns in their compositions. Kneebody now uses a wide variety of cues in their live show, and they can affect all aspects of the music, from changing key or tempo, to starting one piece and beginning another, to directing the orchestration of an improvisation. These cues are interwoven into the natural flow of the music, generating an additional level of synchronicity to their ensemble playing.
I have no reason to think that Kneebody's style will be better represented in the future of jazz than any of the thousands of other artists currently making great music. I only hope it catches on, because I'd love to see it develop. That's up to a lot of other people, so I'd rather not fuss over it. I'll spend my time consuming, producing, and sharing the music I love.
Have a video: