It’s probably safe to assume at this point that no other band working today can offer what Kneebody delivered at the Blue Whale on Friday night.
Embarking on the second of a four-night residency, the group -- forged more than 10 years ago with a popular residency at Santa Monica’s Temple Bar -- can’t really be considered a local band anymore, given that some of its members have relocated to the East Coast. But with a long-held habit of merging jazz with groove-heavy elements of rock and electronic music, Kneebody remains far from forgotten on the local scene, particularly as its members have gone on to shine in other projects.
Still, the night was more about what the group accomplished as a unit, which was made only more intriguing by the addition of Santa Monica-born DJ-producer Alfred Darlington, better known as Daedelus. Stationed at the far right of the stage, the band’s extra member further underscored the group’s ability to traverse boundaries while setting aside a more direct songwriting journey for those who carried a more elastic sense of ebb and flow.
With Daedelus opening one song with an alarm-like tone that continued to swell and recede, bassist Kaveh Rastegar locked into a groove with a dense, throbbing tone, opening the door for trumpeter Shane Endsley to explore compressed melodic arcs. As the song grew stranger and more aggressive, drummer Nate Wood anchored its pulse with jagged, odd-angled rhythms that sounded like a drum machine choking on its own power supply.
Wood was also a centerpiece of the aptly named “Drum Battle,” another track said to be from a forthcoming new album. With the drummer twisting through a time-bending variety of off-kilter rhythms, Endsley and saxophonist Ben Wendel embarked on slippery tangles of harmony as Daedelus countered on a cluster of percussion pads. The results found an evocative middle ground between jazz, funk and ambient atmosphere that kept heads bobbing.
In the second set, the band reverted to its original lineup and continued to explore asymmetrical grooves such as those led by Adam Benjamin's growling keyboards on “Unforeseen Influences” and a later piece that found Rastegar mining fuzzy high notes on his bass over a driving pace that sounded a few acrobatic steps removed from Radiohead.
The night was also marked by a brief piece that was introduced as a “meditation” in tribute to jazz piano prodigy Austin Peralta, who died last month. The 22-year-old keyboard phenomenon collaborated with Wendel on the pianist’s 2011 album “Endless Planets.” With Endlsey leading a ghostly mix of a whispered melody atop electronics that murmured into distant echoes, the song notably didn’t feature a discernible keyboard lead, as if an acknowledgment of what would go missing from now on. As Wendel held a note high and bright at the song’s finish, that absence remained, but there was no denying that a spirit lingers, and keeps moving ahead.