For jazz listeners, one of the more exciting pastimes of the last 15 years or so has been watching the development of Bay Area drummer Scott Amendola. Coming out of the fertile San Francisco scene in the mid-'90s as a sideman for eight-string guitarist Charlie Hunter, Amendola has since been called on by a variety of diverse musicians, including Madeleine Peyroux, John Zorn, Alan Pasqua and, most notably, a long collaboration with restless local guitarist Nels Cline.
On his own Amendola has shown an often invigorating hand with composition, and for his first CD as a bandleader since 2005's intricate "Believe" he has scaled back his focus to a trio. Teamed with Tortoise's Jeff Parker on guitar and bassist John Shifflett, "Lift" is frequently reminiscent of Amendola's groove-oriented early days. Though Parker's tone bears a flintier edge than Hunter's, the biting, breezily melodic funk of "Lima Bean" and "Blues For Istanbul" could have easily appeared on one of those late-'90s albums with Amendola's multi-layered pulse leading the way. Elsewhere the drummer's freer impulses are given a chance to shine with the metal-studded workout "Death by Flower" and "Cascade," which features a host of electronic squelches and squittles to frame its post-rock drive.
With so many sounds and styles on hand, "Lift" doesn't hold together quite as well as some of Amendola's prior releases. Still, as a document of the many gifts that keep him as a genre unto himself in 2010, it's a fine example.