Live review: Scott Amendola vs. Wil Blades at Vitello's
Typically armed with a small hardware store of electronics, gadgets and noisemakers when performing with explosive avant-jazz trio the Nels Cline Singers, drummer Scott Amendola presented a more stripped-down but no less adventurous side in a duo performance Wednesday night.
Teamed with fellow Northern Californian Wil Blades in an opening slot at Larry Goldings' weekly organ night at Vitello's, the pair combined for a rambunctious take on soul jazz that hinted at Amendola's earlier collaborations with '90s Bay area fixtures T.J. Kirk and Charlie Hunter. Opening with a deep-swinging version of the Thelonious Monk classic "Nutty," the ever-versatile Amendola showed that even removed from his usual bag of tricks, he's still one of the top jazz drummers in the game.
Touching on a number of pieces from Duke Ellington's "Far East Suite," Blades joked that the band's combative name arose out of Amendola's desire to rework that record's big band arrangements into an organ duo. No matter how playfully contentious the effort must have been, a version of Ellington's "Blue Pepper" had heads bobbing as Amendola danced around every corner of his kit, pushing the duo into new corners of the song's rowdy backbone. Earlier in the set, Amendola briefly worked his drums with his bare hands on the Blades original "Sketchy," a breezily funky workout that recalled B-3 standard-bearers Jimmy Smith and Richard "Groove" Holmes.
Bound for an eclectic battery of shows around New York City next week that includes a reunion with Hunter at the out-jazz incubator the Stone, Amendola typically tilts more toward the experimental end of the spectrum these days. Though that side of his playing will surely get a showcase with April's arrival of a new Singers record and an upcoming trio album with Tortoise's Jeff Parker, it's inspiring to see that Amendola can still push the boundaries in any setting.
-- Chris Barton
Photo: Scott Amendola, left, and Will Blades onstage at Vitello's in Studio City. Credit: Chris Barton