Saxophonist Sam Gendel's 2020 release Satin Doll is a truly unique standards album.
Actually, even calling it a standards collection is a little misleading, as Gendel's renditions of classic songs like "In a Sentimental Mood," "Afro Blue," and "Love Theme from Spartacus" are so far afield of the expected jazz sound that you might not recognize many of them on first listen.
Filtering his alto saxophone (or "saxofone" as he wryly lists it in the credits) through a spacy skrim of digital effects, Gendel sounds less like a jazz saxophonist and more like an alien singing in a wordless language whose voice has been picked up via satellite.
It's a dichotomous sound, one that's at turns both digital and organic, yet flowing with the breath and intimacy of a live performance; much like the one Gendel gave at Los Angeles' Union Station in 2019 that was captured on a viral video.
Joining him are his collaborators, electric bassist Gabe Noel and electronic percussionist Philippe Melanson, who make up Gendel's futuristic rhythm section.
Together, they mix elements of jazz, ambient electronica, sampling, and avant-garde improvisation.
It's unclear if they pre-programmed their parts or played live with Gendel, but it doesn't really matter, the end result sounds like both options at once.
It's that live, organic flow that lends Gendel's computerized sensibility such innovative flair.
It's no gimmick.
Gendel has chops and displays them here, arching with a warm lyricism through a narcotic "Stardust" and fluttering with amoebic sensuality through "Freddie the Freeloader" like a 3-D-printed John Coltrane.
There's also a chopped-and-screwed version of Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat'' featuring ghostly, SIRI-esque vocals and a fractured reworking of Eddie Harris' "Cold Duck Time" with a groove that sounds like R2D2 with an upset tummy.
Despite all this, it still manages to be funky.
There are also several original tracks here in "The Theem," "Glide Mode," and the evocative "SXFN FNRL," which sound like live improvisations recorded directly into Gendel's laptop.
With Satin Doll, Gendel has crafted a low-key, innovative album that's cosmic, womblike, and full of stars.