Charlie Hunter and Scott Amendola
Since reuniting to tour and record as a power duo in 2010, New Jersey’s seven-string guitar wizard Charlie Hunter and Berkeley’s drummer extraordinaire Scott Amendola have covered many thousands of miles on the road and released two acclaimed albums: 2012’s recession-inspired Not Getting Behind is the New Getting Ahead and 2013’s Pucker. The first CD focused exclusively on Hunter’s compositions and the second showcased Amendola’s writing. But with the viability of the CD looking more tenuous than ever for indie artists, the duo is forging a new path for disseminating their music while maintaining the programmatic potential of the album format.
Over the next four months Hunter and Amendola are releasing four 5-track EPs, each focusing on the music of a particular artist or act. The project opens with ingenious distillations of Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn gems such as “Rockin’ In Rhythm,” “Daydream” and “Mood Indigo.” From Cole Porter’s songbook, they interpret standards, including “Too Darn Hot,” “Every Time We Say Goodbye” and “Anything Goes.”
Country music and jazz are often cast as antithetical styles, but the truth is far more complicated. For Hunter and Amendola, a great song is simply a great song, and they find plenty of grist for improvisation in Hank Williams’ classics like “Cold Cold Heart,” and “Ramblin’ Man.” They find fertile ground even further afield from typical jazz fare in the music of new wave rockers The Cars, digging into hits like “Candy-O,” and “Let’s Go.”
“The idea is to do these four and see how people respond,” Hunter says. “We started thinking why do we keep making 10-song CDs. I don’t necessarily want to do 10 Hank Williams songs, but five can work well. As long as the song is good we can put it through the mill, like what we did with T.J. Kirk and the Bob Marley album I made.”
Amendola and Hunter first played together two decades ago when Hunter was a rising star on the Bay Area acid jazz scene and Amendola was a recent arrival from the East Coast. The collaborated in Hunter’s trio and the Grammy-nominated quartet T.J. Kirk, but didn’t have many opportunities to work together after Hunter relocated to Brooklyn.
They reconnected in 2010 through clarinetist Ben Goldberg’s earthy project Go Home, which led to a series of duo gigs around Europe and the US.
“It’s always s been amazing whenever we play, but it keeps growing, getting more intuitive,” Amendola says. “What Charlie does is so uncanny. When you watch him play, it’s hard to understand what he’s doing, but when you close your eyes it’s so beautiful and deep and compelling.”