Berkeley fans of the Hammond B-3 organ don’t get many opportunities to experience the mighty instrument close to home. It’s a sad state of affairs for funk and soul jazz aficionados, especially considering that Wil Blades, the Bay Area’s most prodigious mid-career B-3 player, has long called Berkeley home. He returns to Jupiter on Friday with Oakland drum maestro Scott Amendola.
After a considerable hiatus their long-running duo Amendola Vs. Blades is swinging back into action with a series of gigs, playing two nights at Duende Oct. 23-24 on a round-robin triple bill with Hammond organist Joe Doria’s McTuff, and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey where all three bands will be rotating seamlessly every song, and Oct. 25 at the Red Poppy Art House in San Francisco. Pushing the limits of the duo format to the very edge, Blades and Amendola have honed an ambitious repertoire, including a full-scale interpretation of The Far East Suite, a late-career masterpiece by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.
For several years they were performing the suite in its entirety, but they haven’t had much time to collaborate in recent months. Amendola has been touring extensively in a duo with Berkeley-raised guitarist Charlie Hunter (they recently released a series of downloadable thematic EPs exploring the music of Gershwin, Ellington, Hank Williams and The Cars).
Blades spent a good deal of last year on the road performing in a duo with Medeski Martin and Wood drummer Billy Martin, a relationship that accelerated after the release of their album Shimmy.
He and Amendola both bring original tunes into Amendola vs Blades, but the format allows for maximum freedom, while also requiring him to maintain a strong bass presence.
“We play some of the Ellington/Strayhorn stuff that’s easier to bust out, like ‘Tourist Point of View,’ ‘Isfahan,’ and ‘Blue Pepper,’” Blades says. “In the duo we’re able to really open up the songs, bring a certain spontaneity that maybe wouldn’t happen with a quartet and trio. I definitely have to really be focused and on top of things. At the same time, there’s so much freedom there’s really no such a thing as a mistake. A mistake can lead to cool things happening. You’re not going to through the whole band off, so you can take a lot more chances.”
Growing up in Chicago, Blades started his musical investigations as a drummer. Forgoing the music school path followed by so many of his jazz contemporaries, Blades sought out knowledge directly from the source when he became enamored with the organ, eventually forging a close bond with the inimitable Dr. Lonnie Smith. The B-3’s cagiest master recently hailed Blades as “the future to carry on the legend, the legacy of the organ.”
Considering Blades’ background as a drummer, it’s not surprising that he’s thrived in the company of some of the world’s finest (and funkiest) trap set stars. The recently departed New Orleans drum legend Idris Muhammad played on Blades’ stellar 2007 debut album Sketchy (Doodlin’ Records) and he’s performed widely with Galactic’s Stanton Moore.
Earlier this year Blades released Field Notes, a deeply satisfying trio session with New Orleans drummer Simon Lott (who has worked widely with Charlie Hunter), and insistently inventive guitarist Jeff Parker, a Los Angeles resident via his hometown Chicago. Blades credits Berkeley-reared guitarist Will Bernard with giving him the opportunity to work extensively with Lott.
“Will Bernard started using him in a trio with me, we toured all over the world,” Blades says. “I called him when I wanted to create a new trio, a more open band that could play a funk gig, a jazz gig or anything in between. The concept is definitely coming from a groove-oriented place but it can open up. We can play standards. Even if you don’t use all the options, it’s fun just knowing they’re there.”
Farewell to David Wessel
Friends, colleagues and fans of David Wessel are still trying to wrap their heads around his sudden loss. Recruited to run UC Berkeley’s Center for New Music and Audio Technologies shortly after it was founded in 1987, he’s been the heart and intellectual anchor of CNMAT ever since, presiding over an exuberantly interdisciplinary program exploring fundamental questions about the relationships between technology, composition and music making. CNMAT invited people to come by 1750 Arch Street to an informal open house for the local community to “share stories and celebrate the life of this great person and giant in his field” Friday between 1-6 p.m. “A second, larger gathering to celebrate David’s life and work is being scheduled in November and will be announced in the coming days,” writes CNMAT lecturer and spokesman Richard Andrews. I’ll write more as the plans develop. Meanwhile, you can read about this amazing program.
Beth Custer’s Clarinet Thing: It’s a crazy music-packed weekend in Berkeley. Beth Custer’s Clarinet Thing, a quartet featuring reed masters Sheldon Brown, Ben Goldberg and Harvey Wainapel, returns to the Hillside Club on Friday.
Klaxon Mutant Allstars: The playful and sonically inventive Klaxon Mutant Allstars celebrate the release of their debut album Robot Invasion Saturday at the California Jazz Conservatory. The band brings together a stellar cast, including trumpeter Henry Hung, drummer Eric Garland, keyboardist Colin Hogan, saxophonist Kasey Knudsen, and bassist Sam Bevan.
Daniel Popsicle: And madcap saxophonist, composer and Berkeley High math teacher Daniel Plonsey presents his 14-piece Daniel Popsicle at the Berkeley Arts Festival performance space 3 p.m. Sunday. He’s joined by guitarist John Schott, Randy McKean, Cory Wright, Michael Zelner, Adrian Gormley, Herb Diamant, Chris Silvey, Masha Albrecht, Myra Chachkin, Jules Ryan, Lynn Murdock, John Shiurba, Steve Lew, and Suki O’Kane. Yowsie.
For more events in and around Berkeley, check out Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. And submit your own events there — the calendar is free and self-serve.