The minute — the second — you feel you’ve nailed down the definitive musical meat of Kneebody, something changes. With a snap of audio fingers, a song jumps from richly-flavored big band to the unsettling, alternating fuzzy-sharp tang of electronic synthesizer.
With a big dollop of funk on the same plate, drizzled here and there with a sweet and surprising chord.
But always grown within a framework of jazz, said the band’s trumpet player, Shane Endsley.
He, along with keyboardist Adam Benjamin, Ben Wendel on tenor sax, bassist Kaveh Rastegar and drummer Nate Woods, make up the quintet whose sound has a reputation for escaping categorization.
If there must be a slot to fit into, jazz works well, Endlsey said in a recent interview. “We’re from the jazz tradition, just with a new step forward.”
On Saturday, Walla Walla gets a chance to sample the offerings of Kneebody when the group plays a free concert at Whitman College, beginning at 2 p.m., in Chism Recital Hall at the school’s Hall of Music, 137 S. Park St.
The band has recently been touring for its fourth album, “The Line,” which debuted in late September and is the band's first with Concord Records. The work on it is a mix of high energy rock and nuanced chamber ensemble in 12 original compositions, crafted by all five members of the Kneebody.
A tradition of teamwork is one of the band’s hallmarks, in writing and more.
“We’re a collective,” Endsley said. “We’re all equal partners and make the big decisions together.”
Since its birth in Los Angeles in 2001, Kneebody has retained its original members, unusual in today’s band environment, he noted.
The length of those relationships has allowed the group to “bake” and reach intimate levels of communication.
“We have this sort of musical language, something we’ve developed out of a desire to be spontaneous and improvise, but still be cohesive and tight,” Endsley said.
To send messages to each other during a song — such as “I’m tossing a solo in here” — the musicians employ established musical phrases, a series of notes that act as code, he explained. “If someone throws one of those out, we honor that.”
That’s the kind of thing fans of the band are attracted to, he added.
While in Walla Walla, Kneebody will be doing a clinic at Whitman, helping students there unravel the mysteries of jazz and understand rules of the genre are meant to be broken.
Bringing Kneebody to the school is an opportunity to help his charges understand the business of music, said Doug Scarborough, assistant professor of music at the college.
Because of the band’s premise that each member is equal, having them present to students gets five full-fledged musicians for one price, he added.
The band members consider such clinics to be a labor of love.
“Its important to us,” Endsley said. “We try to be forthcoming and at the service of the students. We show them stuff we do and we ask them what they want to hear about. ‘What do you need to know about playing and practicing?’”
When such sessions are fruitful, those can have a strong impact on students. In turn, such young adults have become a big part of Kneebody’s fan base, he said.
Playing together, including doing the music clinics, accounts for about one-third of each year.
Each member has carved out a solo career, as well, but Kneebody remains a labor of love.
“We are always reinvesting in the band, growing it,” Endsley said. “And if you work hard and you keep putting it out there, it benefits your solo career.”
For more information on Kneebody’s concert, contact Doug Scarborough at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sheila Hagar can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8322.