Saxophonist, Bob Reynolds, is no Michael Brecker. He’s not Chris Potter, or Kamasi Washington or Evan Parker. Bob Reynolds is the Saxophonist’s Gregory Porter.
Reynolds has been a player of significance in the East and West Coast jazz scenes for a number of years, but has grown, quite significantly, in popularity in the last few years due to his collaborations with John Mayer and Snarky Puppy. Many will know him from his blistering tenor solo on the track ‘Outlier’ from Snarky Puppy’s 2014 masterwork, We Like It Here, but I would suggest that the ubiquity of that record has led to a misconception of the role Bob Reynolds plays in today’s jazz scene.
Reynolds has released two albums in 2017: Guitar Band, back in March, and his latest album, Hindsight, released earlier this month. Whilst the two records have significantly different aesthetics, they are both prime examples of Reynolds’ priorities as a saxophonist, improviser and as a band leader: tone and groove.
His tone is the main reason I draw comparison between Reynolds and Gregory Porter. The saxophonist has clearly devoted a lot of time to producing a sound that is warm, rounded and languid. A sound he is able to maintain, not only when the music demands that his playing is quiet and relaxed, but also when he is having to play with aggression and intensity. In a time where the saxophonists of the moment (people like Kamasi Washington and Shabaka Hutchings) are known for having quite an abrasive edge to their sound, Reynolds’ music stands out as an example of contemporary jazz that is wonderfully calming, without ever ceasing in its ability to be engaging.
Aside from his tone, what makes Reynolds’ music so engaging, is his devotion to groove. In his vlogs, Reynolds often talks about what he calls “pocket”, wherein a soloist takes a drummer-like approach to their improvisation, ensuring that, no matter how harmonically varied a solo gets, the soloist is always contributing to a piece’s rhythmic feel. Much of Reynolds’ music – particularly on his new album, Hindsight – is written with this idea in mind. It’s an idea that is particularly well realised on the record’s final, highly energetic track, ‘Late in the Game’, in which the sax melody in the head syncs up in the most viscerally satisfying way with the drummer, Ohed Calvaire’s thrillingly driving backbeat.
What makes Reynolds special as a saxophonist right now, is his insistence on pushing himself in areas that a lot of other saxophonists dismiss. Like Gregory Porter, Reynolds’ music isn’t as bleeding edge exciting as a lot of the jazz I tend to devote my time to, but it does the fundamentals better than the music of nearly any other emerging talent at the moment. Bob Reynolds may not fit the archetype of the kind of musician in which the music press is currently interested, but he certainly deserves your attention.