Amendola vs. Blades – Greatest Hits – Sazi

Camaraderie and friendship on full display.

Amendola vs. Blades – Greatest Hits [TrackList follows] – Sazi sr004, 47:39 [10/7/16] *****:

(Scott Amendola – drums, cymbals, co-producer; Wil Blades – Hammond B-3, Hohner Clavinet, co-producer)

What is the sound of deep-rooted friendship? Cajoling and jokes. Finishing each other’s sentences. And in case of drummer Scott Amendola and keyboardist Wil Blades [yes, he spells his first name with only one ‘l’], it’s the sound of music. The two San Francisco Bay Area musicians began performing together on stage as Amendola vs. Blades a decade ago. The 47-minute Greatest Hits is the duo’s debut recording. Of course the title is tongue-in-cheek, since the seven tunes will be new to most. Some of the compositions were recorded by Amendola and Blades for other projects, so fans might recognize some of the music. When the twosome decided it was finally time (and they had the time) to put their artistry onto tape, it was important to maintain an impromptu vibe. Amendola explains, “It’s all about keeping it fresh and keeping the audience engaged.” Which is why they turned Greatest Hits into a live recording, taped during two evening concerts inside an intimate downtown Oakland music club.

Both Blades and Amendola have collaborated with a wide range of artists, so even if you don’t know their names you may already be familiar with them. Amendola has played extensively with guitarists Nels Cline and Charlie Hunter, as well as violinist Regina Carter; and on the pop and rock side: Cibo Matto, Kelly Joe Phelps, Larry Klein, and Phil Lesh. Blades leads his own trio, and has worked with John Scofield, Idris Muhammad, Joe Louis Walker, Don Braden, Nicholas Payton, Hunter, Jason Marsalis, and many more. Amendola and Blades, however, have a special chemistry and camaraderie when they are on stage and performing as one.

There’s a soulful and often funky feel to the seven originals. There is a measured, firm groove on the lengthy “Slow Zig,” which is a tribute to Joseph “Ziggy” Modeliste, the drummer best known as a founding member of funk group the Meters. Modeliste is an innovator in modern funk and New Orleans style drumming, and listeners certainly get a sense of that history on the percolating, sassy “Slow Zig.” There is a modernistic demeanor to this cut, with a New Orleans-tinted second-line groove which rises and ebbs. Blades concentrates on his Hammond B-3 but also slips in lines from his Hohner Clavinet, a dual-keyboard approach which he uses throughout the album. Homages are rife during the program. The shortest piece, the poignant and steady “Deep Eyes” is Amendola’s beautiful ode to his daughter. This track initially surfaced on Amendola and Charlie Hunter’s 2013 CD, Pucker. It’s interesting to hear how Amendola and Blades change this around a bit, particularly how the Hammond organ gives a different sensibility and emotional tinge than Hunter’s ringing guitar. Immediately following “Deep Eyes” is Blade’s “Mae Mae,” which honors Blades’ daughter. Blades did this on his 2007 album, Sketchy, with a larger group setting. Here, the organ, clavinet and drum interaction provides a close-knit intimacy while the duo sustains the piece’s inherent soulfulness and rhythmic groove, and the two also elongate the arrangement to supply plenty of improvisational fun.

Amendola and Blades know beats, all kinds of beats and rhythms. If that isn’t obvious when hearing any of the material on Greatest Hits, it readily becomes apparent on the nine-minute closer, “Oladipo,” which is a West African surname which translates as ‘More Wealth.’ In this case, the tune acts as a way to musically praise drummer Tony Oladipo Allen, who was the musical director of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s band Africa 70 from 1968 to 1979. Allen is considered one of the primary co-architects of the genre of Afrobeat music. “Oladipo” is a polyrhythmic opus and a virtuoso workout, showcasing Amendola and Blades’ vigorous ability to evolve their music in a live location, and they spur each other to greater and greater heights. The music spirals and soars, the musical life-force is palpable, and the energy is non-stop. If anyone is a Hammond B-3 enthusiast and somehow missed this late 2016 release, it’s time to discover Amendola vs. Blades.

TrackList: Lima Bean; The Slow Zig; Addis; 32nd Street; Deep Eyes; Mae Mae; Oladipo

—Doug Simpson

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