A former pickup band that, frankly, I thought I’d never see again, the Klaxon Mutant Allstars have not only stuck together but have also produced an album — a slice of enjoyable modern jazz with clean horn lines, pop sensibility, and layered writing that sends the five-piece group in unexpected directions of syncopation.
There’s definitely a “new musical terrain between jazz, electronica, pop, and indie rock,” as the Klaxons’ web site proclaims. It’s a quasi-genre I loosely called “indie jazz” in the early ’00s. I had aggressive bands like the DIY trio, Birth, in mind, but others have emerged with a stronger nod to the jazz tradition, and with electronica more deeply embedded in their psyches. Kneebody occupies this space.
So do the Klaxons, now, with Henry Hung’s trumpet and Kasey Knudsen’s sax up front, putting up the jazz lines that might have been transported from a ’60s combo but presenting music that those audiences would consider alien. On a track line “Klaxon Tom Bomb,” the “jazz” gets put behind a heavy, infectious pulsing. It’s aggressive and fun.
“Desaparecere” starts out with a grooving, relaxing bass solo from George Ban-Weiss, gracefully backed with Colin Hogan’s electric piano. But later, Knudsen ignites the band into a fiery groove fueled by twisting, growling sax solo.
This kind of idea-mixing is all over the album. The almost too-smiley funk of “Riled Up” makes you tap your toes, but it gives way to a stretch of free improvisation against a skipping beat that all the players ignore. “Dear 70% (We Are Being Ruled by the 15%),” which features a deceptively simple, poppy theme that builds into some nice syncopation and, eventually, another searing Knudsen solo.
There’s one near-straightahead track, “Taxi Driver Blues,” that’s heavy with swing and funk, replete with walking bass and very — I don’t know the term, but Eric Garland sticks to conventionally jazzy drumming. It’s plain jazz, in a sense, but it’s fun.
I’m happy to see that Robot Invasion includes the Klaxons’ most memorable song, “Jamie Moyer,” an initially pretty tune that — like its namesake baseball pitcher — messes with your mind by changing speeds. Stretched here to a glorious 12 minutes, the song was a highlight (for me, anyway) of their appearance at the SF Offside Festival back in 2012; here, it becomes a showcase for Garland as the band “trades fours” between normal speed and way-too-slow speed.