Will Schube wrote this whole thing on only one instrument.
When Sam Gendel and Sam Wilkes get excited, they tend to speak over one another, adding to thoughts and rephrasing half-baked ideas spouted out by the other. When they play music together though, the results are exactly the opposite. Under their own names, the duo have created Music for Saxofone & Bass Guitar (which POW is honored to premiere just below), an album that adheres to its title but doesn’t sound like it. In many ways, Wilkes and Gendel aren’t quite what they seem. Hilarious and affable over the phone, both musicians are serious students of all musics—from jazz and classical to pop, rock, and hip-hop. This amalgam of styles coalesce beautifully on Music for Saxofone & Bass Guitar, a bewildering concoction of lounge jazz, experimental minimalism, R&B, and Dilla-inspired rap beats.
“Truthfully, I don’t think there’s a precedent for this. It’s unusual music and it’s alien music. It’s all by design,” Gendel explains over the phone from Los Angeles. His collaboration with Wilkes came from a place of friendship, and, according to the two of them, all it takes to make truly staggering art—which is what Music for Saxofone & Bass Guitar is—is some good old fashioned hang time at the pad. “It’s philosophy. That’s what happens when we hang out. This is a documentation of our ever-evolving philosophy. It just happens to be that the way we express it is through sound, our instruments,” Gendel says before including, “Obviously, yeah, we absorb and listen and connect through people and through music. That’s what music is, a connection.” Adds Wilkes, “Most of the time we were just hanging out and talking about ideas and sharing inspiration.”
One of those chief curios of inspiration, Wilkes mentions, is a rare LP by Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti titled Duas Vozes. After Wilkes and Gendel spend two straight minutes debating the proper spelling of ‘Vozes,’ Gendel makes it clear that what they’re after isn’t homage or tribute. They’re here to make a goddamn scene. “Duas Vozes was in our lexicon because Wilkes came over to my crib just to hang out. I threw it on. Then, it grabbed us. Just while we were hanging out,” Gendel explains. “But there are a million records like that! It’s not even about music, though. Wilkes will show me a picture he likes, then we freak out over a visual for a minute. That informs something. The music is informed by other things, because that’s what makes it interesting. Music informed by music doesn’t really grab me that often.”
And it’s hard to imagine a specific music that would serve as a precedent for what Gendel and Wilkes are doing. It’s just so distant and odd, yet perplexingly warm and inviting.
Much like they are conversationally, on record, Gendel provides the flourishes, moving around to places unexpected, while Wilkes provides the anchor. On “Theem and Variations,” which is somehow remarkably played exclusively on the bass and saxophone, Gendel turns his horn into a squashed accordion, deliriously bouncing around the track while Wilkes solidly underpins every left turn Gendel forges, often times stealing the spotlight for himself with piercingly melodic bass solos and repetitive themes. While the only rule Wilkes and Gendel imposed on themselves was that they’d be the only musicians on the record, their ability to foster a style so singular by utilizing only two instruments (okay, and one drum machine on the last song and Gendel’s voice), is an unrelenting testament to the overflowing talent these two possess.
By limiting the moves they could make, the vision of Music for Saxofone & Bass Guitar came into crystalline focus. “Everything about the record is intentional. This music has been in the making for a long time. Some of it has been evolving over years,” Gendel notes. “Greetings to Idris” takes a looped beatbox pattern and layers strummed bass chords and a feathery, airy saxophone line that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Madlib jazz sample. “Kiefer No Melody” is another hip-hop throwback, this time featuring a cacophony of horns that pulse against each other with the precise minimalism of someone like Steve Reich. Wilkes’ bass filters in and out of a psychedelic haze, adding to the controlled chaos that seems to be Gendel’s MO.
At only seven songs, Music for Saxofone & Bass Guitar is slight upon first appearance, but each moment is packed with such creative flow, one listen leaves you satiated. Regarding their future prospects, Wilkes says this project is just the Amuse-bouche, before Gendel appropriately adds, “We want this thing to taste like the lambchop, though.” Whatever you crave, Gendel and Wilkes likely have it somewhere in their world of sound. “We thought we had to document what we were doing because we don’t think anything like this is being documented,” Gendel says. “We decided to go ahead and embark on that journey.” What a treat that they did.