malleus&incus

Genre-defying Bands Part 1: The jazz-rock-funk-hip-hop-etc band

Posted in Funk, Genre-defying, Hip Hop, Jazz, Rock by Keshav on August 1, 2010

In the month or so that this blog has been active, I’ve been attempting on and off to come up with a good idea for a post. Alas, my efforts were in vain. The conclusion I’ve come to is that, like Hamlet, my tendency to over-think things can prevent me from actually getting anything done. So, I’ve decided that instead of agonizing over what to write about, I’m just going to write, and see what I end up talking about.

I have a problem with genres. When people make music that attempts to conform to x-genre, they really pigeonhole their music. While there are a lot of great bands that can be described with one genre label without doing them a grave disservice, I’ve come to believe that one characteristic many great bands share is their inability to be accurately described by a genre label. Maybe this has to do with my taste, as I gravitate towards things which are strange and different. But regardless, I’d like to share some bands which I think defy genre-categorization, and also happen to be awesome. For now, I’m going to talk about two genre-defying bands with a lot of similiraties, Rudder and Kneebody.

IMPORTANT: Listen to the sound clips, or you won’t get much out of this post.

Rudder

Rudder is a quartet comprised of Chris Cheek (tenor saxophone), Henry Hey (keyboards), Tim Lefebvre (electric bass), and Keith Carlock (drums). All four are trained and highly skilled jazz musicians, but don’t let that fool you. Calling “Rudder” jazz is like calling a cake flour. You don’t get anything out of only naming one ingredient in the mix. If I had to apply a genre label to Rudder, I would call it jazz-funk-rock-hiphop, but that would be silly. Which is why I’m counting Rudder as an “ungenrefiable” band. But one can clearly hear when listening to Rudder the influence of the four genres I mentioned. Take their song “Stablemaster,” one of my favorites:

Stablemaster// Rudder

The song starts with a 5-string fretless bass playing a line on the low C, a much lower note than the more common 4-string bass can reach. I point this out because such a low note to me invokes a hard rock or metal type of, shall we say, “crunchiness.” However, the way Tim Lefebvre feels the bassline, with ample shuffle, is more funky than anything else. When the drums come in, there is no better way for me to describe it than to say “shit gets real.” Keith Carlock comes in with a hard hitting backbeat, that evokes hip hop and funk with its swung 16ths. However, his kit sounds like a rock drumkit, with some alteration on the bass drum which makes it substantially more forceful. Carlock lines his bass drum hits up with Lefebvre’s bass notes, a staple quality of funk and hip hop. Henry Hey then comes in on what sounds like a Fender Rhodes with an auto-wah pedal, playing a funky riff that also, through the voicing of the chords, betrays his jazz influence. Chris Cheek, the final piece of the puzzle, then comes in with an unabashedly modern jazz line, also running his sax through some effects pedals, much as a rock guitarist would. As in this tune, Cheek also often takes jazz-style solos over Hey, Lefebvre, and Carlock’s myriad grooves.

Being that I ostensibly am talking about genre-defying bands right now, it may seem like I’ve spent a lot of time talking about genres in relation to Rudder. However, my goal is to show that while there are obvious funk, rock, jazz, and hip hop influence in Rudder’s music, it would be inaccurate to describe them as any one, or even any two of those genres. The other thing I find amazing is that while they don’t incorporate these influences particularly subtly, I don’t ever feel like Rudder’s music is a forced amalgamation of the different kinds of music they are influenced by, as can happen with many such bands. Rudder always sounds natural, and their wide range of influences come together without fail to great a unique sound which, in my opinion, defies genre.

Kneebody

A lot of similarities can be drawn between Rudder and Kneebody, and I think if there was something magical genre label I could use to describe Rudder, I might put Kneebody in there with them. But then again, I might not. Kneebody consists of Shane Endsley (trumpet), Ben Wendel (tenor saxophone), Adam Benjamin (keyboards), Kaveh Rastegar (electric bass), and Nate Wood (drums). Like Rudder, all the members of Kneebody are trained as jazz musicians. But Kneebody is not jazz.

Never Remember// Kneebody

This song is called Never Remember, and the first time I heard it I listened to about twenty times in a row, then proceeded to buy the album it’s on. Never Remember begins with a hypnotic harmony between Ben Wendel and Shane Endsley. The trumpet and tenor sax harmony suggests jazz, but this line doesn’t sound jazzy to me. In fact, it almost sounds like something that would be found in chamber music. When the main groove drops, it does so like a ton of bricks. Nate Wood comes in with a heavy rock sound, both in terms of the drum beat and the drum set, and Kaveh Rastegar achieves a similar effect on the bass. This time, Wendel and Endsley’s harmony sounds thoroughly like modern jazz due to the increased tension-building as well as the melodic contour. Their new line is also hypnotic, but now filled with emotion as well. Though there are no vocals or lyrics in the song, the combination of repetition and emotion-laden melodies evoke a rock song.

While this song has what I’m going to call for the sake of convenience a “rock feel”, Kneebody’s songs range in feel from hard rock to slow blues to hip hop shuffle. The harmonies also range from very simple and modal to complex jazz harmonies. This range of influences both within and between songs, a facet shared by both Kneebody and Rudder, is instrumental to being a “genre-less” band. The ability to incorporate elements of many genres without sounding like a crude Frankenstein of those influences makes for highly original and entertaining music. Both Kneebody and Rudder, I suppose, could have listed under the genre field, “jazz-rock-funk-hip-hop-etc.” But like I said before, that would be silly. And even that wouldn’t capture the essence of either band, just as I haven’t been able to do so with my cursory discussion of the music.

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3 Responses

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  1. Michael Mjollnir said, on August 5, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    I enjoyed this article as I am also a musician. I can tell be the way you listen to music that you are as wel. Your discriptions are great between musicians, we get it:). I am also into music that does not lock itself into any particular genre and could not agree with you more in regards to your thoughts on the subject. Unfortunately I feel that many musicians do not have as much say in their music as they would like and tend to become stagnant.. Bands like godsmack are a prime example. How many times can dude say “go away” in a song and have it remain unique? Does he enjoy this? I personally would much rather listen to bands such as Mr. Bungle or dillenger escape plan who tend to challenge your mind. I applaud you for this article and the recommendations that you have made. I will most certainly be listening to more of both bands..

    michael…
    michael..

    • Keshav said, on August 6, 2010 at 3:52 am

      Thanks for your comments Michael, and I appreciate your musician’s second-opinion on this. Please stay with us, as I’ll be writing more posts in this vein in the near future.

      -Keshav

  2. Michael Mjollnir said, on August 6, 2010 at 11:06 am

    most certainly.


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