by Mexican artist Victor Zubeldia that serves as the cover of
Lift is entitled “The
Angel” and has hung in Scott Amendola’s living room for years, but it could have
been created with his music in mind. Depicting an androgynous figure being raised
into the night sky by a host of blackbirds via long, ropelike strands of hair,
the image echoes the buoyant freedom, transcendent collaboration, and rich depth
that characterize the album as a whole.
title track, which floats free of gravity as the ebb and flow
of Amendola’s percussion
nudges Jeff Parker’s tendril-like guitar lines and John Shifflett’s terse, elastic
bass in and out of the tune’s melancholy melody. A similar sense of expansion
and contraction pervades
“Cascade”, as an insistent bass/drum rhythm provides the bedrock under the industrial
hiss of Amendola’s improvised electronics.
“They’re such great musicians that you can literally put anything in front of
them and they’re
going to make great music from it,” Amendola says of his bandmates. “And it’s
going to be them, their interpretation, which is exciting to me as a bandleader.
Lift marks the debut recording of the Scott Amendola Trio, but the leader’s relationship
with Parker and Shifflett stretches back through several years and a variety
of configurations. Amendola and Parker studied at Berklee College of Music together
in the late eighties, and Shifflett entered the picture a few years later, after
Amendola relocated to the Bay Area. All three first combined, along with guitarist
Nels Cline and violinist Jenny Scheinman, on Believe (Cryptogramophone, 2005)
by the drummer’s long-running quintet.
The range of
inspirations to be found on Lift - from the bulldozing psychedelic-metal
“Death By Flower” to the laid-back West Coast reimagining of Brazilian music
on opener “Tudo
De Bom” - should come as no surprise to those familiar with Amendola’s pedigree.
His most renowned
sideman gig is supplying the requisite open-minded intensity
for the Nels Cline Singers. He has integrated the music of Thelonious
Monk, James Brown, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk with the nineties
funk-jazz group T.J. Kirk, the first of many collaborations with
guitarist Charlie Hunter; taken a wholly different but equally
slanted view on the Monk book with the collective trio Plays
Monk along with bassist Devin Hoff and clarinetist Ben Goldberg;
and burrowed deep into Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s “Far East Suite” in a duo with
Hammond B-3 organist Wil Blades.
his own journey eastward on the tune “Blues For Istanbul,” the
melody of which sprang fully formed into Amendola’s head during a tour of the
titular city – a similar burst of
inspiration to the one that created the familiar-seeming singsong melody of “Lullaby
For Sascha,” a lovely tune penned for the drummer’s four-year-old son that feels
like a halfremembered childhood dream.
“Composing is the most challenging but also the most rewarding part of music
Amendola says of the diverse, memorable tunes that make up Lift.
Parker is ideally
suited to follow Amendola’s muse wherever it leads. His versatile
guitar adapts to his roles in the Chicago Underground Trio and in post-rock group
Tortoise, or in projects like the ensemble Isotope 217 that bridge the two. On
Lift he conjures a blues shuffle on “Lima
Bean” as easily as the rockabilly noir of “The Knife,” which Amendola wrote in
tribute to friend and collaborator Jim Campilongo.
“Jeff is just so deep,” Amendola says. “His use of space and harmony and his
sonic world are so interesting and unique.”
to Shifflett as “the unsung hero” of the group, whose midwestern
affability and self-deprecation (he’s from Iowa) combine to camouflage his robust
playing. He anchors the band, asserting an organic, grounded acoustic feel when
his bandmates venture far out into their electronic excursions.
John’s energy and his unpredictability are always interesting to me,” Amendola
extremely patient; he can sit on a line forever and let me and Jeff dance around
it, and then inject some idea and completely change everything. But he does it
in a way that’s very much
about the ensemble and very little about himself.”