Los Angeles multi-instrumentalist Sam Gendel, who’s known equally for his production work and his saxophone playing, began playing the horn when he was ten, inspired by classic jazz figures like John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter. His interests soon broadened to embrace funk, rock, and electronic music, and he eventually ditched any notion of pursuing a conventional jazz career. He developed an eclectic, ever-growing pool of collaborators and his playing has turned up on a diverse array of recordings by the likes of Vampire Weekend, Blake Mills, Perfume Genius, Moses Sumney, and Sam Amidon.
Among his most important associations was as a member of Louis Cole’s eclectic, nonchalantly virtuosic jazz-funk fusion band Knower, which also featured his close collaborator, bass guitarist Sam Wilkes. He’s a wildly prolific musician, releasing albums at an obscene clip. There’s a charmingly unfinished, decidedly raw quality to his music, conveying a work-in-progress spirit of experimentation rather than an ultra-polished product. His music blurs stylistic lines as if for sport. Writing for the New Yorker, Kelefa Sanneh has said, “Gendel’s self-effacing approach has earned him a growing reputation: Jazz Times hailed him for creating ‘a distinctive sax sound,’ and a review in the Guardian said he had found ‘an entirely new language for his saxophone.’” Indeed, his 2020 Nonesuch album Satin Doll featured narcotic electro-soaked interpretations of jazz standards like the title track, the Charles Mingus classic “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” and the Miles Davis modal gem “Freddie Freeloader.”
“Sam Gendel plays like a student at the altar of spiritual jazz,” wrote Pitchfork. “His songs are just a little too psychedelic to sit in the contemporary jazz section, but his music is as studied and controlled as his counterparts in post-bop.”