vintage eye

Hindsight is 20/20

Whenever I introduce a friend to jazz, I make the point of offering them this distinction: “Now, there’s your grandfather’s jazz,” I tell them, “and then there’s your father’s jazz.” To any jazz fan worth their salt, this point draws its fair share of contention and raised eyebrows, but for somebody just beginning to dip their toes in the century or so of the genre, it’s a helpful model.

Your grandfather’s jazz is warm and swollen with brass. Bass notes thrum with enormous presence and depth of feeling. Saxophones, trombones, trumpet—they all scream like jungle cats. Cymbal crashes bloom and then linger. There’s no mixing, and no real layering done in the studio other than what the musicians are already doing themselves. The only question asked is where to put the microphone. Your father’s jazz is cooler, more refined. There are still edges to the music, but it’s not as harsh. There’s a sound engineer regulating levels, raising and lowering slides on a soundboard—and you can feel the difference. The jungle cat is there, but its hair isn’t bristling up on its haunches anymore. Instead of yowling into the night, it’s purring. It’s lying in a tree, batting its paw at birds who get too close. Grandpappy’s jazz is analog; your daddy’s is all digital.

Both forms have their time and place, but September’s standout album needs to be in your dad’s CD collection by, like, yesterday. Bob Reynolds, known for the decade he spent touring for John Mayer and his previous work with Snarky Puppy, released his latest album, Hindsight, on the first of this month.

The album features a standard jazz quartet (Reynolds on tenor saxophone; Aaron Goldberg on piano; Reuben Rogers on bass; and Obed Calvaire on drums) that sounds like an ensemble twice its size. Reynolds and the rest of his quartet constantly surprise you with unexpected color and sound. The quartet as it’s now known may be a traditional make-up, but Reynold’s compositions are so creative and original that they begin to reshape our assumptions of what the form can be capable of.

The album’s second track, “Step Aside” hardly seems possible given just four members. That Calvaire can stay on top of the feverish rhythm—and yet remain so understated—as both Reynolds and Goldberg counter brilliant solos off of each other, is almost unbelievable. Though Goldberg helms the piano with incredible command, Reynolds doesn’t let us forget he is the true leader of the quartet, as he proves in each track, but particularly in “Swedish Blues” and “When It’s Over.” He can sing with his saxophone. Even in those somber, almost balladic pieces, Reynolds manages to belt. He is a subtle but magnificent power, and an enormous gift to 21st century jazz.

In fact, I retract what I said earlier about your dad; Hindsight is our jazz, breathtakingly modern and open-minded. More than a CD rack or a leather bound storage binder, this album deserves to be on your Spotify playlist and in your music apps. Go download it. Go buy it. And if you can’t do any of those, at least listen to it. With some of the best tenor solos you’ll hear this fall, Reynolds submits a strong, late-game contender for the best jazz album of 2017.

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David Willis is a second-year who may have perfect vision, but doesn’t have any arms.