Scott Amendola Trio – Lift – SAZi SR 001, 46:29 ****:
(Scott Amendola – drums, percussion, electronics; Jeff Parker – guitar; John Shifflett – bass)
The latest album from drummer Scott Amendola, Lift, is a first for the San Francisco-based musician. It’s the debut of The Scott Amendola Trio – guitarist Jeff Parker, bassist John Shifflett and Amendola on drums, percussion and electronics – and also the initial release on Amendola’s new label, SAZi.
For those familiar with Amendola’s work, Lift is an appropriate encapsulation of his musical character: explorations of several genres, inspired improvisation never obligated by expectations and a thoroughly modern outlook which nevertheless is marked by traditional touches. Amendola may be best known either as a member of The Nels Cline Singers – the instrumental outfit led by the iconic Los Angeles guitarist – or perhaps his involvement in funk-jazzers T.J. Kirk, the collective trio Plays Monk or his previous duties in Charlie Hunter’s band.
This 46-minute program is all Amendola: he wrote the eight tunes and his musical vision is noted throughout. That’s not to say Parker and Shifflett stay in the background. Parker – a Chicago string bender in post-rock ensemble Tortoise and the Chicago Underground Trio – and Shifflett (who has worked with Boz Scaggs, Fred Ho and, like Parker, has a long association with Amendola) offer unpredictable or ideally suited contributions.
There is a broad range of influences. The bright opener “Tudo De Bom” has a grooving Brazilian feel that leaves plenty of room for Amendola’s rolling percussive effects, notable drumming ability and rhythmic drive. Parker adds versatile guitar that bridges the gap between contemporary players like Pat Metheny and older artists such as Jim Hall. Shifflett, meanwhile, lays out a firm, grounded acoustic bass bedrock that allows Amendola and Parker to push past the margins. The rock-tinted number “The Knife,” on the other hand, has a rockabilly/surf music mixture with a completely different sunshine aspect.
The longest cut is the most outward bound. The nearly eight-minute “Cascade” begins with Amendola’s improvised electronic noise but then morphs into a swinging elevation fronted by a persistent drums/bass inclination that rides atop the atonal electronics: listeners may find the contrast jarring, although fans of Tortoise or similar groups will enjoy the journey. “Cascade” also measures in ambient moments that include a demonstrative Shifflett bass solo. The likeminded “Death by Flower” is a more raucous affair: Parker’s discordant, distorted guitar screams and Amendola’s forceful drums augment the track’s harsh quality.
At the opposite side of the audio spectrum is the floating title track that has a melancholy melody and is highlighted by Amendola’s flowing hi-hat and brush work, Parker’s slowly coiled guitar lines and Shifflett’s concise bass. The Scott Amendola Trio also showcases their blues/jazz sensibility on the well-named “Blues for Istanbul,” which has an exotic foundation coupled with an earthiness provided by Parker’s shimmering blues intonation. Parker’s grasp of blues is more pronounced on the funky and fun “Lima Bean,” which evokes the James Brown/Thelonious Monk blend that distinguished the group T.J. Kirk.
Lift has an open-minded consciousness readymade for those who prefer jazz that pursues ideas and stimuli from various musical places; Lift also shows Amendola’s eclectic traits and full stylistic extent, from funk to blues and beyond.
1. Tudo De Bom
3. Blues for Istanbul
4. Death by Flower
6. Lima Bean
7. The Knife
8. Lullaby for Sascha
— Doug Simpson