Scott Amendola, Wil Blades, Skerik, Cyro Baptista, and Jeff Parker (from the SFJAZZ event page for the concert series being discussed)
Last night in the Joe Henderson Lab at the SFJAZZ Center, drummer Scott Amendola presented a Deep Grooves program entitled Amendola vs. Blades vs. Skerik vs. Baptista vs. Parker, a follow-up to a previous Amendola vs. Blades program performed for SFJAZZ. This amounted to a wildly freewheeling quintet, whose other members were (in the above order) Wil Blades on a Hammond B3 organ with additional electronic keyboards, Skerik on tenor saxophone, Cyro Baptista on other percussion instruments, and Jeff Parker on guitar. The selections were taken from the recently released Amendola vs. Blades album Everybody Wins. The 7 p.m. performance I attended was the first of eight performances the group planned, six of which remain as of this writing.
With the exception of “Fess Up (Before Ya Mess Up),” none of the tracks from this album were identified during the performance. Instead, the adventurous listener was treated to a one-hour wild ride through jamming at its most vigorously impetuous. Yet, in the midst of all of this delightfully (if somewhat contradictory) organized chaos, one had ample opportunity to appreciate the inventive skills of each of the players. Indeed, Amendola’s own work was the contribution that spent the most time relegated to the background, letting everyone else go his own way with whatever material had been documented in the charts.
Baptista was probably the player that stretched this license to the extreme. He was so active in so many different bizarre ways that it was almost impossible to look away from him. I do not think he overlooked a single way to get sounds out of the resources available to him, including his own vocal chords. Furthermore, all those sounds were the results of choreographic turns that seemed to have as much to do with commedia dell’arte as with making music. In contrast, both Blades (hiding behind his keyboards) and Parker were more physically subdued but just as adventurous in taking their solo riffs.
Front and center on the stage was Skerik. He seemed to be there to remind the listener that there were “tunes” in all of this jamming. He took the liberty of introducing most of those tunes. Nevertheless, he also took any number of ways to warp those tunes during his own improvisations, many of which involved alternative techniques for saxophone performance.
Taken as a whole, the event came closer to a one-hour amusement park ride (hence, the headline) than a collection of tracks from a recent album; but, taken as a whole, that ride was definitely time well spent.