The painting 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.

Witness the 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 distortion of “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.

Amendola takes 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 for me,” 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.”

Amendola refers 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 says, “He’s 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.” 



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