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Bob Reynolds: Communication Is Key

R.J. DeLuke By

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I am a jazz musician. It's just that—what does that term mean? —Bob Reynolds
Bob Reynolds, a saxophonist and composer of note with nine recordings under his own name and a work load that has him playing with artists like Larry Carlton, Snarky Puppy, Josh Groban, John Mayer and others, pauses when considering the genre of jazz and how he fits in.

Reynolds doesn't have to apply his talents to the changes of jazz standards or neo-bop workouts written by his peers to be fulfilled. He can do it. It can be fun for him. But his rich tone, silky chops and great feel for melody and rhythm don't have to be applied to the jazz cannon. He's at home with funk and groove music. He adds a bold spirit to Mayer's band in a smooth sonic contrast to the flailing guitar. On an August night at the esteemed Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, NY, with the Larry Carlton quintet, he tossed out gritty and soulful sounds, somewhat reminiscent of one of his influences, Grover Washington Jr., on tunes associated with the guitarist, including the guitarist's originals and songs from the Crusaders and Steely Dan. He expertly added an extra sophisticated layer to the sound.

"I am a jazz musician. It's just that—what does that term mean?" he says over lunch before the Carlton gig. "It has everything to do with that person leveraging the term and their associations to that. Is the person saying that and the only jazz they've heard is Kenny G? Or the only jazz they've ever heard stopped at Benny Goodman? Or they only are into Vijay Iyer? Which jazz are you talking about? I don't mind the term because it is somewhat of a helpful categorization ... So I am a jazz musician, but it's a case by case thing."

"Just because something ascribes to that word, doesn't mean it's something I'm going to like," he says after pauses. He selects the words carefully, because he is not biting the hand feeds jazz musicians. He understands and respects it. Yet, "There's so much I don't like. Jazz happens to be the music that has the strongest concentration of playing music with a lot spontaneity in it, and needing a high skill level. But the problem from my viewpoint is that it's become so ... So much of it has become cerebral, self-indulgent. Where's the connection?

"It doesn't mean I'm saying, 'Don't try to be as great as you can on your instrument.' It should first and foremost be about communication. With the people you're playing with and, hopefully, the people you're playing for. That's the music that gets me excited. Music that has that connection. If something is astounding from a cerebral standpoint, I don't care."

His newest CD, Quartet, is an example. The eight compositions played by a group that has been together for about two years, developing a chemistry and a language that can only be developed when groups stay together—Ruslan Sirota on keyboards, Janek Gwizdala on bass and Chaun Horton on drums. The music is jazz and the improvisations are outstanding. The songs are at times mellow, funky and ethereal, but they can be felt and absorbed.

Previous Reynolds albums have featured superb jazzmen like Reuben Rogers, Aaron Goldberg, Mike Moreno, Eric Harland and Obed Calvaire among others.

"That's my roots, jazz. But the way that I come at music as a composer, bandleader, doesn't tend to be walking bass line swing. It's swing, inside of other feels. It's swing, but it's not like 'Autumn Leaves.' I enjoy playing over those kinds of things, but as a composer it doesn't feel like it's my language when I write. Where I'm coming from as a writer tends to be more about merging all of my musical influences. I grew up in the '80s. All the music I've been hearing since then is what informs the sounds in my head, as much as Sonny Stitt and Dexter Gordon, who I've spent half my life checking out," he says.

"The reason this album is called Quartet is because it's the first time I've really felt that moniker. It gets tossed around so casually to describe the number of persons on the stage and who's leading that band. The so-and-so quartet. Most of the time, in the jazz world, it means one guy got the gig and three people are playing with him. It's a different set of people most of the time. It's rare it's actually a band that's together. This has been a band for me for two years. We play once a month in Los Angeles. We've had a residency at the Baked Potato for about two years. It is bass, piano, keys and drums ... This is actually the first time I've had a band that is a quartet. It also feels like the most sincere representation of my take on that."

It was recorded live, with a small audience, with all four musicians in the same room. No headphones. The session was also captured, tune by tune, and put on YouTube.

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