We’ve become accustomed to thinking of jazz as delicate sounds played by iconic wise men (and women) in museum-like settings. But during its salad days, jazz was played as dance music in dance clubs. In that spirit, British DJ Mark Knight, perhaps the most talked-about new name in house production, played a three-hour set at Underbar last Thursday whose spectacular improvisations emphasized both the rhythm of his music and the ecstasy of dancing to it.
Having opened his set by wandering playfully through many types of rhythm and several genres of sound, Knight settled on a deep, syncopated, hard tribal groove. He worked the rhythm and goofed with it. Over and over he took his groove into sonic send-ups full of metalism, trumpet solos, and keyboard doodles that, after being elevated sky high, were brought back to the groove with a ferocity that made the dancers scream — and dance even harder. Knight’s trumpet send-ups could sound brittle, like a Clark Terry solo; more often he played saxophone sounds (electronic, perhaps sampled) that recalled the gorgeousness of Grover Washington or even the painful divertimenti of Von Freeman. In a classic jazz setting, such solos feel like private musings on which you’re eavesdropping. In Knight’s house set, where the groove was loud, thick, and blues-like, the solos felt like blatant sex, bad-ass — what house heads call “Let the beats control your soul.”
Knight lives in Maidstone, Kent, and he’s a working-class kid — his parents, he says, were authentic cockney — who thinks of his tracks as “a get-out-of-jail card, something so irresistible that whenever a DJ gets in trouble in a set he can just cue up my track and all’s well.” His Underbar set proved he has the keys to free people from every sort of imprisonment.
— Deedee Freedberg / “The Sphere”