There is, in the work of the best jazz musicians, a trickiness that comes from a conflation of melody and harmony, a gorgeous ambiguity about what a note means. A melody note, pushed a bit one way or another, suggests to musicians substitutional harmony, a pungent burst of color that isn’t written into a tune, the sort of invention that often defies a casual listener. And it is trickery because that one note, being used for a second as one thing, having a flavor of its own, suddenly becomes something else.
Bruce Saunders has control over those hidden lanes of a tune, the abrupt splashes of meaning that come out of nowhere. And that control elevates him to the highest level of American improvising musicians, a master soloist and a master, if reticent guitarist. Reticent because, like most mature improvisers, Saunders has trimmed the rest away, throwing out what doesn’t need to be in a solo. In this he’s linked to the great figures of not only the art form—Miles Davis, Jim Hall, Thelonious Monk, Joe Henderson—but the great American minimalists whether they be Ernest Hemingway or Mark Rothko.
Saunders, from Florida originally and in New York city for 17 years, has come to his knowledge the hard way. He’s studied. He’s played with the best musicians of his generation, having recorded or performed with Michael Cain, Sam Newsome, Bobby Previte, Jack DeJohnette, Tony Scherr, Ben Monder, Steve Cardenás, Peter Erskine, Dave Holland, Bill Stewart and more.
Peter Watrous (The New York Times Jazz Critic)