If told about a band that consisted of only keyboards and drums, one wouldn’t be faulted for thinking, “Where’s the rest of the group?” But one listen to the funky California-based duo Amendola Vs. Blades and their new album, ‘Everybody Wins’ and all fears will be assuaged. Wil Blades on Hammond organ and clavinet delivers cutting solos and deep bass lines that make for a thick stew of soulful harmony and daring improvisation, while Scott Amendola behind the kit creates beats that are simply unstoppable, simultaneously pushing the duo to heights unknown and sending the listener into a joyful sonic trance. But, in a move away from their debut album, ‘Greatest Hits,’ the new album from Amendola Vs. Blades is bursting not only with creativity, but with personnel. ‘Everybody Wins’ features only three tracks that are exclusively duo. The rest of the album sees contributions from guitarist Jeff Parker (Tortoise), saxophonist Skerik (Les Claypool, Garage A Trois), percussionist Cyro Baptista (Herbie Hancock, Sting), and keyboardist Rob Burger (Tin Hat Trio, Laurie Anderson). Unsurprisingly, the music is as outsized as the roster of guest musicians. Moving between any number of styles and moods, ‘Everybody Wins’ is sure to expand minds and preconceptions.
The guests, of course, didn’t find themselves in the studio by chance. Amendola, for instance, plays alongside Baptista in the Nels Cline Singers, headed up by Wilco guitarist Nels Cline. And Parker and Amendola met at Berklee College of Music in the late ’80s, later appearing on the drummer’s albums, ‘Believe’ and ‘Lift.’ Parker also appears on Blades’s 2014 album ‘Field Notes.’ Burger, a musical compatriot of Amendola in San Francisco circa the mid-90s, joins the duo on “Fabulous:Stupendous,” adding lush synth strings, and vintage keyboard sounds to the predominantly through composed Amendola composition. It ultimately propels the track into deep aural dimensions. Indeed, these musicians have more than just shared experiences in common; the additional players are coming from the same free-flowing arena that Amendola and Blades operate in.
“Jeff, Skerik, and Cyro are all extremely broad, versatile musicians,” explains Blades. “Scott and I are the same. They just fit with what we do; they straddle a lot of stylistic boundaries, all while maintaining their musical voices. We can go in so many different directions musically, and it’s really fun. Everyone is really open-minded and down to go wherever the music takes us!”
“The ‘Vs.’ is about how we mess with each other,” says Amendola. “It’s one fun part of our personal connection. Our friendship. We take the art of what we do seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Gotta have fun, mess with each other . . . and keep improvising!”