Combining a significant technical proficiency with an avant-garde approach to jazz, Los Angeles saxophonist Sam Gendel came up in the 2010s underground with a forward-thinking approach to the genre. Having made a name for himself under the Inga moniker, Gendel began releasing under his own name in 2017, producing a plethora of experimental projects both individually and with the assistance of his contemporaries. Raised on the works of John Coltrane, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and Wayne Shorter, Los Angeles-based jazz musician Sam Gendel took up the saxophone at age ten after buying one from a retired policeman in California for $50.00. Working throughout his teens to master the instrument, Gendel gradually found his own vision among L.A.'s ever-shifting jazz scenes. Breaking through alongside Kevin Yokota (drums) and Adam Ratner (guitar) as Inga, Gendel released his first full-length project as part of the trio with 2015's en which saw Gendel follow his icons' spiritual progressions, moving through psychedelic, meditative, and transcendent styles with vision and proficiency. en was followed shortly by 2016's Volunteered Slavery EP, a project which paid homage to one of Gendel's early icons through a cover of the titular Kirk track. That same year he made a record with fellow L.A. iconoclast Taylor Mackall titled Saudade. Inga's May 2017 single "Crossroads" was their last. The first music to arrive under Gendel's own name was the 2017 project Double Expression, a two-hour odyssey composed primarily of field recordings and one-takes. Using a long-form approach to the genre with 40-minute-plus tracks, the album was inspired by (and sampled from) many of Gendel's street performances, mimicking their use of a loop station with short recordings from his phone. This was followed just a few weeks later by his debut album, 4444: continuing to work with Ratner and Yokota, the project made a direct shift in sound, diverging from long-form and saxophone-driven material in favor of subdued vocal jazz. Underscored by Ratner's melodic guitars and Yokota's measured drumming, Gendel embraced his own vocal experimentation 4444, and displayed his instrumental proficiency while employing his voice to deliver cryptic political opinions and emotional musings. Gendel next pushed his saxophone to its limits for 2018's sophomore album Pass If Music: Comprised solely of sounds made using his alto sax, the project traversed uncharted territory, with standard notes warped into vocal-esque wails and electronic trills. This was bookended by another collaborative set, Music for Saxofone and Bass Guitar, which saw Gendel team up with Sam Wilkes for a minimalist, exploratory work utilizing the duo's instrumental talents. Gendel's third album arrived just over a year later. Titled Satin Doll, the work unpacks Gendel's extensive list of influences and techniques, blending his experimental tendencies with jazz standards to form a self-described "futuristic homage to historical jazz." The project eventually saw release in March 2020, with assistance from close collaborators Gabe Noel (electric bass) and Philippe Melanson (percussion). Gendel returned later that year with fourth LP DRM: a futuristic, electronically-driven set, the project derived inspiration from modern mainstream music and Gendel's experimentation with vintage instruments.
© David Crone /TiVo
© David Crone /TiVo
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Jazz - Released March 13, 2020 | Nonesuch
Grounded in jazz's diverse history and powered by that unquenchable desire to improvise, explore, and discover that is the essence of the genre, the new world of brass-and-rhythm meets effects-and-plug-ins is one of today's most exciting musical vortices. Gifted with a fertile imagination and obvious affinity for the palettes of sound available in the digital world, Los Angeles-based "saxofonist," Sam Gendel crafted a tribute that uses compositions by Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis and others as the basis for electronic adventures he's devised in league with electric bassist Gabe Noel and electronic percussionist Philippe Melanson. With a saxophone that only occasionally sounds like a horn, the experimental results are often startling—which in some ways is the point. While the chords of Miles' "Freddie Freeloader" are instantly recognizable via a synthy pulse, the percussion is random and refuses to fall into a steady rhythm. Opening with a descending smear of sound, the title track, famous for being Ellington's set closer, becomes a wide open canvas over which Gendel plays a long, languid solo. Even Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust," the most famous of the so-called jazz standards here, is stretched and made utterly new thanks to a haunting, almost human voice-like tone, and a snap-and-pop rhythm track. Although he admits that he'll probably never do another album like this, Gendel says in the liner notes that "It's not a joke, there's no irony. When we play "Stardust," that's me thinking about Lester Young, straight up." Recorded quickly like the bebop albums of old, these electronic jams, captured in dry, ringing sonics, have a psychedelic mindset, fluid sense of space, and respect for creating atmosphere and soundscapes that add appealing fresh energies to classic tunes. The surprising, diverse Satin Doll is one artist's vision of a future not defined by labels, but classified by the imagination of its creators. © Robert Baird/Qobuz