Sam Gendel & Sam Wilkes
Music for Saxophone & Bass Guitar
Over the last five years the appealingly laid-back recordings made by saxophonist Sam Gendel and electric bassist Sam Wilkes have reached a surprisingly broad audience, one entranced by the unhurried, almost somnambulant collision of tender improvisation and relaxed but unwavering grooves. During this period the two musicians have become increasingly busy as session players in Los Angeles, working across a spectrum of styles, but there’s an ineffable quality to the blandly titled albums they’ve dropped, including the 2018 debut Music for Saxofone & Bass Guitar. Most of the tracks have a rhythm track that can be as little as a muffled kick drum pulse and syncopated finger snaps. Between tracks you can hear the musicians discussing the arrangement of the next tune.
That off-the-cuff vibe seems to have a lot to do with the duo’s growing appeal. Of course, the music is seductive, too—slinky, sensual, gently tuneful, and with surprising flights of off-handed virtuosity. On the duo’s second album Music for Saxofone & Bass Guitar More Songs from 2021 they include a delicate cover of the gorgeous Beach Boys song “Caroline, No.” Gendel plays the melody with a gauzy reediness that feels almost tentative, and after a stuttering hip-hop rhythm drops, Wilkes uncorks in the final minute a delightfully incongruous hyperactively virtuosic bass solo.
As Kelefa Sanneh noted in a 2011 profile in the New Yorker, “Probably one of the things that people—especially non-jazz people—like about Gendel and Wilkes is that the music they make together sounds slightly unfinished, and rather unobtrusive. If you weren’t paying attention, you could walk right past it.” Their recordings suggest that friends have been around, listening and chatting, when they’ve made those albums, but this will be the duo’s first North American public performance.