Someone said Sam Gendel plays saxophone like he’s trying to erase his instrument. I like that. And can’t improve on it. For this album of jazz standards – tweaked, or even twerked, into new shapes and sounds – you might do well to think of the producer and bassist Thundercat deciding to hold Jan Garbarek’s head under water in the hope of approximating the early sounds of Boards of Canada; all the while he’s got Keith Jarrett humming tunes by Mingus, Ellington and Miles in his waterlogged ear.
This is jazz as chillwave. Jazz pulled apart and rebuilt to resemble vaporwave – many purists will be Stanley Crouch-ing the fuck out of this belligerently woozy irreverence. This is a new jazz that could exist without even acknowledging the referenced tunes. Sure, you’ll likely spot familiar themes and melodies (Afro Blue, the title track, Miles Davis’ Freedie Freeloader and Mingus’ elegy for Lester Young, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat) but does it even matter that you’re listening to the Love Theme From Spartacus? If the original form matters little to Gendel than the name is only a number…
He could have played the trick of just taking apart these songs and rebuilding them as his own compositions; that he didn’t is the clue that jazz still means something to him, is a springboard, is part of his learning. It’s in there. The knowledge of these tunes is something he holds, if the weight or any reverence seems largely irrelevant.
This is the music of (and for) Social Distancing. This is Covid-19’s soundtrack. It is a drunken wooze of new blues as founded by tearing down tradition.
I bloody love it. Can’t stop listening to it.
Gendel’s saxophone – or what’s left of it, or what he allows to come from it – reaches us via various filters and blips and bleeps and bloops. It’s joined, on the record, by the electronic percussion of Philippe Malanson and the electric bass of Gabe Noel. They’re recasting virtuoso genius as lazy-fuck shoegaze-jazz.
If this album had found me at the wrong time I might have dismissed it. Maybe in a year or two I will. But for now, for right now, this is one of the greatest things I’ve ever heard. It’s so utterly absurd. And so serious – all at once. That feels about right for 2020. Temperature taken. This is jazz now.
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