Hardly the adversarial enterprise its billing implies, Greatest Hits is not keyboardist Wil Blades' first duo with a master percussionist: he recorded Shimmy (Amulet, 2012) with Billy Martin (of Medeski Martin & Wood fame) in 2012. And any music lover who relished Martin's somewhat more abstract collaboration with keyboardist Medeski, Mago (Amulet, 2007) will be nevertheless satisfied with the largely earthy, accessible results of this project: this wryly-titled collaboration with drummer Scott Amendola is a comparable companion piece, even though it was recorded live (over two nights) rather than in the studio.
These latest fruits of a longstanding relationship are immediately accessible on "Lima Bean," the rapid unfurling of Hammond B3 organ lines intertwining with a quick succession of snappy beats. The chemistry between Amendola and Blades have nurtured is no illusion: each anticipates the other's movements with uncanny precision and clearly both love to dig into a groove, but, as they demonstrate on "Addis," it's not just a matter of repetition, but progressively intricate interaction. If the lack of shared composition of original material seems superficially odd, particularly given the performance context of this album, there's no denying the complementary nature of "32nd Street" and "Slow Zig."
Scott Amendola and Wil Blades are, in fact, too savvy to ignore the dynamics of their partnership. Thus, "Deep Eyes" slows things down, relatively speaking, allowing the instruments to percolate in their own respective ways. "Mae Mae" maintains the progression of these seven tracks, albeit at a more brisk pace, the first real indication of the growing momentum within this album sequencing; reminiscent of the opening numbers, the aforementioned cut, one of the three composed by Blades, doesn't so much mark time as allow the duo to shift gears before accelerating further.
The author's clavinet has become his primary instrument at this point, a necessary and logical instrumental shift sufficient move to alleviate any predictability. It also keeps up the indiscernibly increasing pace the pair have generated so that, as they dig in to the nearly inextricably intertwined melodic and rhythm patterns of the closing "Oladipo," this near-nine minute track acts as combination summary and punctuation for the album.
By the time that cut concludes, bringing Greatest Hits to an emphatic conclusion, Wil Blades and Scott Amendola have proven themselves two artful, agile musicians who have imbued serious truth into this facetiously-titled effort of theirs. That, in turn, renders fully and completely justified the inclusion, at the very end, of the only audible audience response on the record, a hearty round of applause and hollers in keeping with the celebratory mood of this music.
Lima Bean; Slow Zig; Addis; 32nd Street; Deep Eyes; Mae Mae; Oladipo.
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