Kaleb Kirby is a jack of all trades and a master of many. He’s known around the city as one of the strongest jazz drummers in the game and a vinyl slinger on the decks under the DJ Limewire Prime moniker. He also leads various projects, including his jazz fusion combo Animal Children, and more recently the acid jazz trio A Leaf In The Street where he trades the boom booms for a Rhodes, various synthesizers and his voice. His new solo project by the name Kleb (Cleb? K-Leb?) sees him maintain a texture similar to Leaf, but with the twist of having him perform all of the instrumentation.
“Synthesizers and Percussion,” his first solo EP, works as a sort of sketchbook that showcases the possibilities of his new musical direction. Every one of the four tracks displays a different style and attitude while maintaining a consistent sonic palette throughout. It’s exciting to hear Kaleb explore new realms unconstricted by the limitations of a group– we perceive limits right there in the title, but synths and percussion are two departments that leave a lot of room for exploration, especially for a musician as diverse as him.
The project swaggers in strongly with the opener “Shaky Hands,” blowing the implication of insecurity in the song title right out of the water. A breezy groove lays the bedding for silky synth chords that breathe all that breeze before Kaleb jumps in to sing with a confidence I had never heard in his voice. This commanding vocal performance is short-lived as a sample quickly takes its place, but to me it shows a glimpse of a new persona: void of worry and bursting with cool. The synth solo that follows cuts through the mix, mimicking the unapologetic nature of the vocals. A part of me wishes the track had been expanded upon, but if this EP truly is a sketchbook maybe we could expect this sort of personality from future releases.
The opener is followed by “Rusty Core,” a track that can more easily be compared to A Leaf In The Street both in instrumentation and vocal performance, while still adding an element of fluidity and openness that contrasts with this former project. The synthesizer work flows as freely as Kaleb’s vocal range, like disperse birds spinning against an unnatural sky. The vocals move in small leaps now, contrasting with the opener’s polarized registers. The drums are busy and relentless, distancing themselves from the spiraling harmonies and melodic flourishes that adorn them.
The last two tunes are instrumental experiments. “Luminescent Cog” is driven by a beautiful melody often doubled by contrasting synth textures. The counterpoint voices are playful and interesting, and the eclectic drum groove keeps everything grounded as the tune moves between complementary harmonic and sonic ideas to create an evolving landscape. The closer “Glitter Bug,” almost feels like a continuation or response to Cog, although the Rhodes takes on a more commanding presence that switches the sound up. The rhythmic base morphs often while maintaining a loose pulse on the keys that journeys all around, helping close the album with a sense of wonder as to where this project could go.
As a pilot, “Synthesizers and Percussion” does its job well. The ideas presented showcase the potential of a project taking shape. Under a different pretense Kaleb’s propositions could feel disjointed and incomplete, but the stream of consciousness pace of each composition presents so many ideas that I can’t help feeling unnervingly curious as to what’s coming, and the short run time inspires me to start it over again to decipher more. In its humble presentation and carefree bounce, Kleb’s debut EP leaves me hungry to hear where his mind wanders next.
Listen to “Synthesizers and Percussion” via Bandcamp down below: