Amendola Vs. Blades, the Bay Area funk-jazz duo consisting of drummer Scott Amendola and organist/keyboardist Wil Blades, is currently in the midst of a brief tour with two very special guests—eccentric Seattle saxophonist Skerik and Brazilian percussion master Cyro Baptista (Trey Anastasio Band). The foursome stopped in Portland, OR on Thursday and astounded an intimate crowd at Mississippi Studios.
The room was fully seated and only partially full when the band took the stage promptly at 8:00 p.m. The venue’s balcony was closed off at first, but would eventually be opened to accommodate the growing audience, which more than doubled in size over the course of the first set.
The band opened with “Hi-Lo”, off of Amendola Vs. Blades’ 2019 record, Everybody Wins, which features Skerik and Cyro alongside fellow contributors Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Rob Burger (Tin Hat Trio, Laurie Anderson), and from which the bulk of the setlist was drawn.
Next came “Wall Town”, also off of Everybody Wins, which Scott Amendola referred to as “a Skerik tune.” The percussion-heavy performance picked up as the acclaimed jazz drummer reached for a tambourine to play with his right hand while continuing to play a heavy four-on-the-floor groove with his other three limbs. Cyro meanwhile added rhythmic clapping with an impressive level of mastery. Even Skerik supplied some percussion, clacking the keys of his sax through his effects pedals, and Wil Blades dialed up the percussion setting on his organ to add some punchy high-end rhythm of his own, striking the B3 keys like bongo drums.
The band took a moment to develop a hypnotic jam with a long extended buildup that resolved into an explosion of Coltrane-esqe percussive thunder, then descended into soft melodic musings with psychedelic undertones. The audience was enthralled by now, and struggling to remain seated.
With Cyro leading the charge rhythmically, and Scott building grooves around him, the band had the intensity of a Brazilian samba parade, with funky organ and sax reminiscent of a Fela Kuti Afrobeat jam. Unfortunate that it was a fully seated show, because the set would have been more appropriate for the vibe of a Nigerian night club or festival late-night set, where the crowd could move to the rhythm and feed energy back to the band. Instead, legs bounced and toes tapped as audience members resisted the urge to obey the band’s danceable grooves.
Spontaneous interaction between Skerik and Scott drew applause from the attentive crowd, who frequently clapped after solos throughout the night like a proper jazz audience. The band then stopped the song on a dime with a quick glance at each other to confirm the cue, after which Scott Amendola addressed the crowd.
He introduced the songs they had just played and the album, which he said they released “right as shit hit the fan” (i.e. the pandemic). “We have posters and compact disks if anyone is still interested in those. They’re like miniature vinyl,” he joked. He then introduced Cyro, “Our friend from New Jersey,” adding, “It’s true! I’ve been to his house!” Scott is originally from New Jersey himself, and the two master musicians play together with the Nels Cline Singers, led by Wilco guitarist Nels Cline.
Amused laughter bubbled from the crowd as Cyro began to record and loop an assortment of bird calls and other animal sounds, building an entire forest of imaginary critters, with squeaking squirrels leaping from tree to tree. He evoked an audible “woah” from someone in the back of the crowd when he struck a peculiar sounding berimbau made out of what looked like a tin coffee can.
He then looped his own voice to build an imposing chorus of Cyros that sputtered out as he returned to singing with distortion, an octave, and other effects on his voice. The other three musicians stood in awe as they watched, and the crowd clapped enthusiastically when Wil Blades came in on organ bass, bringing the solo to a conclusion as the rest of the band joined in for the next song.
Skerik’s ghostly sax playing complemented spooky synth and organ work from Wil Blades as the band meandered into “Metropolian Hustle”. During the song’s spacey intro, Scott finally had occasion to use his eye-catching suspended, gong-like cymbal that looks like a misshapened heart and sounds like a broken trash can lid, but in a good way.
Cyro meanwhile added myriad sounds and textures with an array of bells, gongs, and cymbals of his own. The master percussionist has a stupefying ability to create aesthetic beauty out of strange and utterly unidentifiable noises. Having collected an assortment of rare and obscure instruments and developed his own language of musical vocalizations, he is less of a percussionist, really, and more of an artist of noises—or something like that.
The song then transitioned to a reggae jam, with Skerik displaying his knack for navigating echoes, and space invaders laser sounds from Wil. The band’s sound was ample despite having only two melodic players, and they mustered quite a lot of volume as they launched into the song’s jazz head outro with big band bravado.
The band interacted with the crowd a bit before starting the next song, “Fess Up (Before Ya Mess Up)”, which began with an intro from Cyro and Scott. Cyro played the washboard on his stomach, trading solos with Scott before going into a high-velocity Brazillian rhythm, then into a laid back NOLA-style swing. He ornamented the slumpy jazz tune with a school bell and a whistle that he played as masterfully as Charlie Parker blowing his horn.
Wil held down bass duty on organ while also playing a jazzy solo with a well-developed arc, making the duo of Amendola Vs. Blades sound like a trio with two melodic voices and a drummer. Cyro yelled gibberish syllabus into a megaphone, again somehow making it so musical that everyone clapped after he did it for ten seconds.
The band then announced the next song would conclude the first set. “We’re gonna play one more and take a set break and then play another set if that’s alright with you guys,” Scott said, drawing cheers of approval from the crowd.
Cyro sang the head of the next tune, “Dewey”, through a megaphone and crackling microphone before the song broke down to a funky, low-volume organ solo with drums. Cyro used finger cymbals and an Indonesian angklung to spice up the sparser section of the song before the band returned to the main head, concluding the first set.
After a short set break, Cyro called the audience back to their seats with a solo that went beyond percussion. He played the jaw harp while singing into a microphone with effects on his voice, creating a multi-voice effect once again. He also delivered a tambourine solo, reminding the crowd how dynamic and versatile the instrument can be in the hands of a master. He then grabbed sticks and added layers of percussion as the band joined in for “Cyroette”, a song from Everybody Wins dedicated to you know who.
Skerik laid back a bit as Wil and Scott did their duo thing with Cyro adding a few voices of his own. Cyro whipped a plastic noise maker tube around that glowed in the ultraviolet stage lights and then grabbed a Brazilian cuika, adding a funky groove to complement Wil and Scott while Skerik squeaked on the sax with a tone remarkably similar to his cuika. Skerik then came in with the song’s main melody. Cyro gesticulated with his arms as he quacked through a duck call at the end of the tune, bringing a smile to Scott’s face.
Scott played a brief drum solo before starting “Addis”. Cyro added claps at first and then picked up an instrument made from at least five pounds of plastic bottle caps, which looked like something that would wash up on the beach, and played it masterfully with shakers in his other hand. The song broke down to a quieter section and Skerik told Cyro to “go nuts.” In response, Cyro blew through a tube that sounded like an ear-piercing bird call and then moved onto a full blown clap solo. He wrapped the solo with some expertly placed “ch” and “sh” sounds made over the mic, along with two angklung. The master percussionist was really able to show his talent in the intimate club setting more than he does with Trey Anastasio Band.
Wil Blades then directed the group into “Fabulous:Stupendous”, a mid-tempo tune with a dreamy island vibe. The Jamaican rocksteady-style jam offered the perfect backdrop for a harmonically sweet and emotionally expressive sax solo from Skerik. The song ended with ethereal textures and bird sounds as Cyro blew into an instrument that sounded like an empty glass bottle.
Scott then kicked off the next tune with an abrupt whack of the snare, launching the band into an aggressive funk groove to close out the set. The band played through “Hambela”, which was highlighted by Cyro using a heavy metal chain to whip his china cymbal. He eventually removed the cymbal from its stand and jostled the chain around like a miner panning for gold. The crowd erupted into a standing ovation when the song was done.
The balcony and floor were mostly full as the band returned for an encore. They capped the night off with a gentle jazz waltz that turned into a cover of Jimi Hendrix‘s “Manic Depression” before sending the audience off with one word on their lips—”Wow.”
Amendola Vs. Blades will perform with Skerik and Cyro Baptista at Vancouver Jazz Festival on Sunday, June 26th, and at Ottawa Jazz Festival on Tuesday, June 28th.
View fan-shot video from the band’s show at Mississippi Studios below, and to find more information and purchase tickets, head to the band’s website.
Amendola Vs. Blades Ft. Skerik And Cyro Baptista – “Hambela”