Having first collaborated for a 2006 performance of Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite, organist/keyboardist Wil Blades and drummer Scott Amendola stepped out as a recording duo with 2017’s cheekily titled Greatest Hits album. For their second release, journeymen musicians Amendola (Nels Cline Singers, T.J. Kirk, Bill Frisell) and Blades (Billy Martin, Stanton Moore, Charlie Hunter) offer another heavy dose of loose-limbed, deeply funky jazz-tinted grooves and catchy riffs.
The California-based Amendola vs. Blades, more of an intuitive collaboration than the friendly rivalry suggested by the group’s name, certainly references the likes of Hunter’s various groups, as well as Medeski Martin and Wood, and to a lesser extent Soulive—it’s all about the sticky rhythms, varied textures, and occasional experimental touches. And it’s easy to connect the dots between these two and the guest musicians who fill out the sound on some tracks: percussionist Cyro Baptista, who works with Amendola in the Nels Cline Singers, Hunter associate Skerik on saxophone, Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker, and keyboardist Rob Burger (Laurie Anderson, Tin Hat Trio).
It’s an enticing mix, including “Fess Up (Before Ya Mess Up),” an infectious salute to New Orleans’ Professor Longhair: Amendola sets it up with a second-line figure, and Blades brings in a juicy B3 melody, using foot pedals to pump the bass line for full-on rumba boogie. “Hambela” works a funky soul-jazz groove in the mold of Lou Donaldson or Lee Morgan, enlivened by Parker’s wah-edged guitar. The group, with Parker and Skerik (on octaver-enhanced sax), dabbles in modified Latin jazz on “Wall Town,” and throws in some off-kilter meters on the clavinet-injected opener “Hi-Lo.” The most ambitious track, “Metropolitan Hustle,” begins with squiggly synth lines and various electronic effects before shuttling to a jazzy section hooked to a creep-crawling bass line, and later lands on trippy dub terrain. An intoxicating sonic journey.
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