In completing his 2017 album The Following Mountain, Sam Amidon felt a new sense of accomplishment. He’d spent his entire life steeped in American, English, and Irish folk traditions, re-working and recording his own versions of songs culled from the annals of history along the way.
Ready for something new after 2014’s Lily-O—not just contemporary, but entirely of his own invention—Amidon temporarily decoupled himself from refreshed folk tunes to explore free jazz and beyond. Swimming against his usual currents, Amidon emerged from the process with a new confidence in making music that excited him, whatever that sounded like. He finally didn’t feel the needling pressure of going on to the next thing.
And yet, here is the next thing: Sam Amidon. With his self-titled seventh album, Amidon returns to the vast reservoir of folk music with fresh energy and a renewed enthusiasm for texture, facilitated by the creative leap of The Following Mountain.
“On my previous albums I feel the elements of the music were juxtaposed next to each other: my folksong arrangements up against Nico Muhly’s orchestrations, or my music encountering Milford Graves’ percussion,” Amidon says. “On this album, I feel like all the elements are more integrated: song form & stories, improvisation, band collectivity, and the history of my own life in traditional music and beyond.”
Amidon called on frequent collaborators Chris Vatalaro, Leo Abrahams, and Shazad Ismaily as the core of his new album, completing the ensemble with Ruth Goller (bass), Bert Cools (guitar), and Sam Gendel (saxophone).
Rather than tapping into a crew already established in folk traditions, Amidon sought out a varied bunch with improvisational backgrounds. He found people whose dynamic creative practice translated into a unique relationship with the specific sound of their instrument. He encountered Cools and Goller at different collaborative performances in Europe, and Gendel returned to the fold from the Following Mountain sessions.