Sunday, January 02, 2011

CD Review: Scott Amendola Trio - Lift

Scott Amendola Trio

Scott Amendola starts his new album with a bit of red herring. The first 63 seconds of "Tudo De Bom" capture the drummer crashing all over his kit, from skins to pitched percussion, implying that a freewheeling tune is about to catch fire. But when Jeff Parker (guitar) and John Shifflett (bass) join him, the mood gets noticeably subdued. Parker doesn't even use any distortion (that comes later), preferring a warm, clean tremolo sound.

Not that the quasi-funky, Brazilian-influenced tune lacks a strong feeling. The trio locks into a different kind of groove right away with some crisp, lean lines from Parker. But like most of the album, the trio takes a turn that isn't exactly expected.

Amendola has been all over the place, musically speaking. (As I wrote here a few days ago, he's on trumpeter Sarah Wilson's Trapeze Project.) Recently, he's become known for his work in the Nels Cline Singers, but he also played with the funk group T.J. Kirk and the Thelonious Monk tribute project Plays Monk with Singers bassist Devin Hoff and clarinetist Ben Goldberg.

In a certain way, Lift brings his various styles together without employing a self-conscious, obvious manner. It shows that Amendola isn't afraid to keep all his options open, and knows how to make them all work successfully. "Cascade" begins with some electronic noise that sounds like a distorted sample of a dripping faucet. It becomes a constant in an aggresive 5/4 vamp, and it duels with Parker's effects-heavy axe, before things break down into an unaccompanied Shifflett solo.

After "Death By Flower" dives into distorted punk free jazz - with the drummer beautifully building the momentum of the piece - the title track comes off like a Paul Motian tune, if that drummer enlisted Jim Hall to join him. Here, Amendola uses his instrument more like an additional voice than a time keeper. For the closing "Lullaby for Sascha," dedicated to his son, the drummer brings back the electronics and subtly creates the setting of Parker playing the gentle melody on a ship drifting on the water and creaking. It might be a little unnerving for its namesake to enjoy as he's trying to drift off at night, but everyone else should admire the combination of atmospherics and simple, catchy melody.

A number of drummers have been popping up lately as leaders and composers. Amendola stands out among, because he's no stranger to the format (he released Believe in 2005 with a quintet) and he also is a master composer.

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