Sam Gendel – Cookup

You never know what you get with a new Sam Gendel album. “DRM” totally surprised me with its spacy acoustics back in 2020. Here he is again with a set of covers of r&b and soul hits from 1992-2004. Songs by Aaliyah, 112, Ginuwine, Beyoncé, Erykah Badu, and more. The spacy surrounding is still there, this time by using wind synthesizers and electric percussion, among other tools. And a sort of distorted vibraphone, played by Gabe Noel. What they did with Erykah’s “Didn’t Cha Know” is breathtaking, unique and really innovative. Sam mostly plays saxophone and piano on this album and comes up with exceptionally cool and weird arrangements, like on “Let Me Love You”, originally recorded by Mario in 2004. For me, this particular track is a sort of bond between “DRM” and “Cookup”.

Sam Gendel "Cookup"

Sam even manages to tickle out the essence of the rather schmaltzy and cheesy All-4-One ballad “I Swear”. Lap steel guitar, synths, and electric percussion actually breathe new life into this track. It keeps the schmaltz though, but in a rather wicked way. The album opens with a jazzed-up sax-led version of Ginuwine’s “Differences” and segues into “Anywhere”, the 112 r&b hit which gets a brilliant Meshell Ndegeocello treatment whose incredibly soft and conversational approach contrasts the free jazz-inspired background in a perfect way.

It’s funny but except for the Badu track, all of the songs were never really on my playlist back in those days. But now they are. Well, still not the originals, but rather these versions on offer here. The deconstructive nature of the project works exceptionally well on “Candy Rain” (Soul For Real, 1994, which had samples of Grover Washington, Jr.’s “Mr. Magic”) with its Herbie-like synth, and “In Those Jeans” (Ginuwine, 2003), with its pretty haunting and exotic mood and atmosphere. We also get a very percussive Beyoncé interlude (“Crazy In Love”) and another completely stripped down take on Joe’s “I Wanna Know”, where Sam and his sax are just way out, but still soulful. The album closes with “Water Runs Dry” (Boyz II Men, 1995), probably the only piece which retains most parts of the original melody. And adding an additional flavor with the violoncello played by Gabe Noel.

I’ve been listening to the album for the past few days. At different parts of the day. Always in its entirety. It has become intoxicating. Out now. On vinyl too!


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