Artist: Sam Wilkes
Genre: Future Jazz / Avant-Garde Jazz
Quality: mp3, 320 kbps
In his new survey of jazz in the 21st century, Playing Changes, Nate Chinen writes that “to be a successful jazz artist today, on some level, is to be a conceptualist.” In Chinen’s suggestion, it is not enough—or maybe besides the point—for an artist to rely on virtuosity alone. It’s more important, he recently told an interviewer, to have “something to say,” as opposed to just the chops to play. Listening to the dreamy, slightly psychedelic debut album from the Los Angeles bassist Sam Wilkes brings Chinen’s point to mind: By evaporating his own performance, Wilkes has allowed it to condensate into a sound bigger than his own bass.
Over the last couple years, as a session player, Wilkes has proven himself an adaptable spark plug for other musicians and their ideas. He’s backed the electronic duo KNOWER on tour and shines in the kitschy, funk-versions-of-classic-songs cover band Scary Pockets. He has also poked around the Los Angeles jazz scene. A few months ago he partnered with the saxophonist Sam Gendel on Music for Saxofone & Bass Guitar, a remarkably intimate conversation of an album in which the two Sams play for and off each other and tinker with electronics in a warm, low-stakes environment. The fluency of that dialogue was less about their vocabulary than their good company and ideas.
At least in composition, Wilkes’ debut is a more deliberate affair, and supported by a bigger cast that includes the drummer Louis Cole and guitarist Brian Green. In addition to the writing, production, and arrangement on most songs, Wilkes is frequently credited with contributing “all other instruments,” an obscurance that has the funny effect of shedding performance in favor of production, as though he were bandleading from behind. WILKES also extends the collaboration with Gendel, but the album doesn’t train a spotlight on the saxophonist so much as gather the music around him, propping up his horn and coaxing out the best performance of his young career.
by Jay Balfour