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 with 2017′s 4444, and has continued producing a plethora of experimental projects both individually and with the assistance of his contemporaries. He explored jazz standards on 2020′s Satin Doll, crafted a suite inspired by Japanese embroidery on 2022′s Blue Blue, and offered deconstructed takes of ’90s and ’00s R&B hits on 2023’s COOKUP.
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. More avant-garde albums followed, including Live a Little, an electronic collaboraiton featuring then 11-year-old singer Antonia Cytrynowicz. He also released 2022′s Blue Blue, a 14-track song suite inspired by sashiko, a traditional style of Japanese embroidery. A covers album, COOKUP, arrived in 2023 and found Gendel exploring classic R&B hits of the ’90s and ’00s. Featured on the album was a guest appearance by Meshell Ndegeocello on on 112′s “Anywhere.” ~ David Crone