By Charis Shafer
In New York where the inconvenient or the obnoxious are often the norm and around every corner are hypercritical connoisseurs, it is rare to have a kvetch-free evening. Having an experience that can cut through the city malaise is like the sun breaking through the clouds on that perfect spring day. This serendipity was found at the Knights On Earth performance at Le Poisson Rouge on May 26, their debut show at the Bleeker St. venue that commemorated the release of their EP "Move Slow, Life Ends."
The four-part group's formation also seemed to be kismet. From a quick scan of their backgrounds, it is surprising they all found the time to dedicate to this single project. The members have played or recorded with the Brazilian Girls, Antibalas, Spoon, and Gil Scott-Heron. As mostly conservatory-trained musicians (bassist Mike Chiavaro has actually authored a book about playing bass that is available at Barnes and Noble), their skills are not to be questioned.
With all the technical prowess and conservatory training, Knights On Earth could easily play perfect soulless music or a naval-gazing repertoire primarily for the trained ear. A bevy of brass instrumentalists, no doubt some of the best horn players in the city, joined the Knights on stage for one number in a move that was full of jouissance with just a touch of gimmick - the ardent and accessible pop-infused blues seemed to hit everyone at the right spot. Drummer Gunnar Olson, who has played with an astounding roster of musicians including Shakira and Asobi Seksu, and bassist Chiavaro lit some fire under the moaning lead guitar and floating trumpet. The Knights veered delightfully on some tracks with layered vocals and improvisational instincts reminiscent of acid jazz greats Medeski, Martin and Wood. Yet, on another track trumpeter and vocalist Michael Williams took the lead and ripped out a bold melancholic ballad that confirmed that this show displayed just the tip of an iceberg of reserve talent.
Singer, guitar player and de facto band frontman Grey McMurray said after the show that all he has ever wanted to do is make a stranger cry. The performance did make me run through a gamut of emotions, but mostly a strong desire to experience this kind of unbridled transcendental bloodletting again. The EP does lack some of the raw energy of the live show, but many tracks have certainly made it into heavy rotation (especially "Car" and "Wide Empty Eyes"). The music is as yet unclassified (their tags on bandcamp vary from electroacoustic to awkward soul music). Pigeonholes aside, these are wildly talented musicians who listen to souls and make the world a better place for all those with ears.
Knight on Earth play at Rockwood Music Hall July 7 at 10pm.