Charlie Hunter & Scott Amendola
Thursday September 18, 2014 @ 8:00 PM
The Supremely Funky Duo of Charlie Hunter and Scott Amendola Deliver Their Second Release, Pucker, An Album Focusing on the Drummer’s Compositions.
The jazz scene’s funkiest duo isn’t waiting around for a rising tide. Following up on last year’s critically hailed Not Getting Behind Is The New Getting Ahead, guitarist Charlie Hunter and drummer Scott Amendola return with Pucker, a lean and sinewy session marked by fierce grooves, caressing melodies, and startlingly intuitive interplay.
Due out on Amendola’s label SAZi Records on October 15th, 2013, the album opens a whole new frontier for the duo with a program of Amendola’s evocative compositions. He established himself as a highly effective composer writing for his five-piece Scott Amendola Band and his trio with guitarist Jeff Parker and bassist John Shifflett, but until now the duo has focused on the seven-string guitar wizard’s muscular tunes. Looking to take a break from writing to focus on his guitar craft, Hunter realized that the duo could thrive while investigating a whole new body of music.
“After 20 years of constant writing I figured it was time to take a break and explore the guitar again,” Hunter says. “I told Scott, if you’ve got enough music together we could make a record of your tunes. What I like is that it really fits right into what we’ve been doing all along, simple music with a lot of space. Scott’s not burdened by trying to be jazzy. He’s a drummer who’s really listening to everything with big ears. He was already driving the bus.”
What’s most impressive about Pucker is the range of moods and textures the duo creates. The album opens with the forthright funk of “Leave On,” a tribute to the late great Levon Helm that’s almost intoxicated by its own high-stepping swagger. More tangy than sour, the brief buzzy title track feels like a calypsonian anthem for a combo lost in the bayou.
With “Deep Eyes” the duo delves into introspective balladry with a gossamer melody that’s as exquisite as it is disquieting. “Tiny Queen” is even more spacious, but rather than gazing inward, the singsong melody is a lingering, open-hearted embrace that’s dazzled by its own quiet intensity. And “Rubbed Out,” which Amendola released back in 2000 as “Slow Zig,” is a case study in the lean, predatory funk that the duo has made a stock in trade.
The album closes with one of Amendola’s greatest hits, “Buffalo Bird Woman,” a tune memorably featured on the Scott Amendola Band’s 2005 Cryptogramophone release Believe. In this incarnation, she’s even more mysterious, wary, wise, and full of well-guarded secrets.
Amendola conceived of much of the music on Pucker for Hunter’s singular musical gifts. Though they already shared years of bandstand experience together, he drew from the dynamic they honed as the rhythm section for clarinetist Ben Goldberg’s rootsy 2008 project Go Home. “Seeing how Ben wrote for Charlie offered a cool new window into how we could work together,” Amendola says. “Charlie’s instrument is very particular. If you have a bassist and guitarist you would write two parts. Ben had to adapt music to the way that Charlie distills both roles.”
No tune better illustrates the way that Hunter strips compositions down to their essentials than “Scott’s Tune,” the album’s only non-Amendola track. Written as a detailed, almost through-composed chart by Amendola’s grandfather, the late, highly regarded New York session guitarist Tony Guttuso, the album’s centerpiece ended up as a loose and limber bluesy stroll powered by Amendola’s graceful brush work.
Pucker marks a milestone for Amendola and Hunter, who first played together 20 years ago. They may not have been fated to form a dynamic duo, but clearly there was some powerful mojo at work. Wielding his custom-built eight-string axe (he dropped a string years later), the Berkeley-raised Hunter was a rising star on the Bay Area acid jazz scene in 1993 when he called Amendola to fill in for drummer Jay Lane at a Paradise Lounge gig in San Francisco on July 3, 1993.
The New Jersey-bred Amendola was still a relative newcomer, having recently moved to the Bay Area after graduating from Berklee, and was supporting himself by delivering bread and gigging. He had heard about Hunter but never seen him play, and decided to wangle his way out of an already scheduled gig to make the date. “I’m really glad I did that, because instantly there was something there,” Amendola recalls.
If their combustible bandstand chemistry wasn’t enough to cement their budding musical relationship, they shared an uncanny listening experience while playing CDs for each other during one of their first hangs.
“I’m putting on Metheny and Scofield,” Amendola says. “Charlie says, check this out and starts playing an album, and I say, that’s my grandfather. He was playing ‘Satan Takes a Holiday’ a classic track that on this CD Pioneers of Jazz Guitar. Charlie was laughing. He had transcribed the solo when he was much younger. The best part is that when we were touring in New York he got to meet my grandfather, who was totally blown away by what Charlie was doing.”
Amendola went on to play for several years in Hunter’s trio and recorded on a diverse array of the guitarist’s mid-90s Blue Note albums, including the 1996 quartet session Ready...Set...Shango!, the hit 1997 album covering Bob Marley tunes Natty Dred, and 1998’s amazing Pound For Pound quartet session with vibraphonist Stefon Harris and percussionist John Santos Return of the Candyman. At the same time they also worked together extensively in the Grammy Award-nominated power quartet T.J. Kirk with guitarists John Schott and Will Bernard.
With Hunter’s move to Brooklyn around 1998 their paths diverged and Amendola started concentrating on leading his own ensembles. His quintet gained widespread attention with its prodigious cast of improvisers, including guitarists Nels Cline and Jeff Parker, violinist Jenny Scheinman, and bassist Todd Sickafoose and John Shifflett.
These days Amendola tours and records with Nels Cline Singers, an instrumental trio with bassist Trevor Dunn, and continues to refine his orchestral duo with Hammond B-3 organist Wil Blades. And since he and Hunter reconverged several years ago, they’ve avidly pursued their partnership, a creatively charged relationship that’s built on their contrasting backgrounds.
“Scott definitely came out of the music school thing and I absolutely did not,” Hunter says. “It worked well both ways, with him learning a lot of visceral things from me, and me learning a lot of things from him. I think the duo setting works so well because we meet in the middle, and there’s such a wide range of things we can call on. What I love about Scott is that I know he’s not going to play the obvious things when I call on something, and I know it’s going to groove.”