Scott Amendola Trio – Lift (2010)

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That drummer Scott Amendola must like a lot of the same kind of music that I do, because his name comes up in the credits list of plenty of records that I enjoy. A lot of that has to do with his close association with Nels Cline and being the drummer for the Nels Cline Singers, but he also added his talents to previously reviewed records by David Witham and Sarah Wilson. I can’t leave out his participation in that ridiculously underrated and ubercool funk-jazz supergroup of the 90s, T.J. Kirk, either.

Guys that I keep stumbling across that many times on good records really deserve their own damned articles, and the upcoming release next Tuesday of the Scott Amendola Trio’s newest album, Lift, provides the excuse for doing that for Mr. Amendola.

Lift is Amendola’s fifth overall record as a leader, but the first one by his Scott Amendola Trio. Prior records have been officially by “The Scott Amendola Band” and those groups have included Cline and the superb violinist Jenny Scheinman. The Trio is completed by John Shifflett on bass and Jeff Parker on guitar. Shifflett is very steady, but it isn’t beyond the realm of his style to toss in a welcome change up or surprise once in a while. Parker’s name has popped up a few times on this space, too, as a member of Chicago post-rockers Tortoise and accompanying the late Fred Anderson on a memorable gig of whack jazz bliss. No matter what Parker does, he will always favor how something sounds over what is the most technically difficult, preferring to create meaningful shapes and paint the right tonal colors. That also describes the style of his old Berklee classmate of the late 80s, Amendola.

Amendola for his part doesn’t make this a “drummer’s” record, only soloing briefly at the beginning of the first tune, “Tudo De Bom,” and then settles into his signature style of dispersing his energy across the entire kit instead of going hard at one part of it. The end result is that he fills up a lot of sonic space, but in a light way. The easy, Latin groove of “Tudo” is a great example of this, and you can find cushions of space between Parker’s pulsating guitar and Shifflett’s melody-defining bass lines. Amendola also likes to fiddle with electronics, and they are introduced on the start-stop “Cascade,” but they play a secondary role in the whole makeup of the trio, adding a little creepy element to certain songs, like this one. “Blues For Istanbul” is a real gem, with everyone playing beautifully: Amendola’s gently circular drumming, Shifflett’s in the pocket bass improvising at the beginning, and Parker’s soft tones sounding like chimes.

“Death By Flower” is another standout track, not because it’s whack jazz (ok, maybe that has a little to do with it being outstanding), but because it demonstrates so well the chemistry among the three even when there is little melody to work with. Amendola not only traces and reacts well to Parker’s moves during the parts where the unmetered theme is played, but also during the rambunctious, skronk-storm in the middle when Parker’s fuzz guitar and thick electronic effects fill up the void. The laid back, folk-ish title song is the perfect contrast in demeanor, but like “Flower,” the chords flow without a care for timekeeping, affording Amendola a chance to play brushes to provide accents instead. While none of the songs fall firmly into the jazz category—it’s called jazz almost by default because there’s no clear category for it—“The Knife” could qualify as a bonafide rocker, and Shifflett invents strong, booming bass lines for coming from an acoustic bass.

After hearing Scott Amendola provide intelligent and sophisticated percussion on so many good records, I would be shocked if he didn’t make a good record on his own. After taking in Lift and the eight Amendola compositions it contains, I remained unshocked.

Lift will be self-issued on October 19 by SAZi Records. Visit Scott Amendola’s website here.

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