By E.R. Pulgar
The crowd piled into the arena-like dome of what is (le) poisson rouge’s basement venue at 6:30. Marked by dim lighting and open standing space, the venue seemed the perfect place for an intimate jazz set.
Kneebody, the show’s headliners, are a jazz band renowned for their experimental instrument use, and Kimbra, their Grammy-winning guest performer, is another artist known the world over for drawing from a variety of genres and delivering eclectic performances. Needless to say, those seeking a mixed bag of musical influences helmed by several talented musicians were not disappointed.
Tiny Hazard were the first to take the stage with their vocalist, Alena Spanger, a vision in yellow; the love child of Grimes and Florence Welch. Her light, crisp voice floated over the music and echoed throughout, an impressive feat considering how intensely the other members were playing. The drumming, reminiscent of a giant stomping through the forest, was made more mystifying by Spanger’s delivery, which sometimes proved fragile, but would suddenly dive into belting, showcasing an impressive range.
During “In A Little House,” Spanger’s swift changes from the higher altitudes of her range proved impressive, matching the near-overbearing intensity of Ryan Weiner’s guitar and Ronald Stockwell’s drumming. Halfway through the set, technical difficulties and distractions that would have crippled any amateur musicians were relatively ignored by the band, who were so into their performance that they could not be bothered to stop, until a crew member jumped onstage. With a versatile voice at its helm and an unparalleled musicality for a relatively new band, expect this ‘Tiny Hazard’ to grow into a force to be reckoned with.
Kneebody came onstage soon after Tiny Hazard finished their set, with bassist Kaveh Rastegar cracking jokes and lauding the openers for getting through their technical issues. Their exceptional saxophone player, Ben Wendel, and trumpet player, Shane Endsley, led most of the songs in the repertoire, coming together in seamless harmonies. What they lacked in a vocalist they more than made up for with high energy and passionate musicianship. “Uprising” was a particular highlight, with Endsley featured in a trumpet solo that left the room speechless.
Finally, around 9, entered the fray. Donning an all-black ensemble, an intricate gold necklace, bright red lipstick and a leopard-print, she looked the part of a front. Kimbra flaunted her impressive range while playing the synthesizer through what can only be called a vocal acrobatics; scatting, belting, and even changing her voice through synth effects, she transcended the music. The set’s high point was “Love in High Places,” where she took full advantage of Kneebody’s presence to put a jazzier spin on her Lykke Li-esque track. It was here where the teamwork between the musicians was most evident, Kimbra swaying to the music and Kneebody playing to a fervent crowd. Between Kneebody, Kimbra, and Tiny Hazard, both jazz and experimental music have experienced a revitalization that shows no signs of slowing down.
E.R. Pulgar is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org