Cry | Scott Amendola Band
Jenny Scheinman - violin
Nels Cline - guitar
Eric Crystal - saxophones
Todd Sickafoose - acoustic bass
Carla Bozulich - vocals on "Masters of War"
Scott Amendola - drums, percussion
The first moments of the record are both haunting and serene. The deliberate drone of an electric guitar feeding back two gentle notes over thirty seconds of space transforms the earthly soundscape, over which Jenny Sheinman's violin begins to cry a sweet, resounding melody. The second phase is announced as a bass string is plucked firmly on the downbeat. The cymbols ring like raindrops and the guitar volume swells, fading chords in and out, as the instruments slowly congregate to the hymn. Rounding out the lush sound, the saxophone adds soulful subtones, complementing the violin's voice before the journey ends in echo. Begging salvation and espousing a gentle repose, "His Eye is on the Sparrow" (popularized by Mahalia Jackson) is the perfect book-end, the beginning of a spiritual journey.
In "Bantu," Scott Amendola resurrects Stephen Biko in a tune that dances in the spirit of African independence. The song begins like a train leaving the station. The guitar and tenor saxophone conspire on a percussive motif that sparkles atop Amendola's rimshots, the guitar and violin push the Afrobeat rhythm to truth and, with the guitar's support, the saxophone and violin pick up the melody. The drums are unrelenting, and the violin sways counterpoint rhythms. The driving pulse of the electric guitar effortlessly transitions from Jimmy Nolan funk comping, recalling some of Fela Kuti's best work, to lush, open chord voicings in the solo section. Eric Crystal's sax solo dances with blue tones around the fire before engulfing himself in flames and joining the rest of the band to power through to the road back to the tundra.
One of the great stories on this album, "A Cry for John Brown," covers a wide spectrum of emotional ground, supplemented with a guitar solo that will rip your head off. Beautiful harmonies between the violin, guitar and saxophone float the sentimental melody above the rumble of the bass and drums. The coupling of the violin and guitar, sax and violin, etc. add perfect coloring to solo excursions and improvisations, creating ample amounts of tension and harmony. The soloists are truly given the space to really spread out and fly in this band, the dynamic level ranging from sea level to mountaintops. Check out Eric Crystal's tenor solo complemented with some catatonic rhythm guitar, a dash of violin here and there, and lush hand drumming by Mr. Amendola.
Nels Cline, who can frequently be found in the Los Angeles underworld subverting guitar theory, has seen the seventies come and go, played fuzz and art noise with Thurston Moore and Sonic Youth, occasionally duels with Mike Watt and rock stars like Stephen Perkins of Jane’s Addiction, and has a brother, Alex Cline, who is a bitchin’ drummer. Nels is all over this record like Magic Johnson in Holiday Inn, one of his best moments being the electronic whispers and screams he emotes on the beginning of "Whisper, Scream...", a Hitchcockian thriller. And check his sensitive, acoustic guitar playing on "Rosa."
"Streetbeat" evokes images of city street chaos and brings me back to the time when I listened to Miles Davis's You're Under Arrest twelve years ago (less Sting speaking in French, of course). The bass plays around the drums in an off-beat descent that erupts in a walking be-bop line. The tune lunges as fast as a cheetah and pulls back into a smoky jazz club ballad, before spreading into a clown walking through a boardwalk of mimes. Todd Sickafoose, one of the East Bay's best known secrets, locks in with the drums which, together with the bass and brilliant rhythm support by Jenny Scheinman, make this tune a schizophrenic pleasure.
So Bob Dylan (or Jack Fate, legend has it) wrote "Masters of War" around 1962 or so, a good deal before the Vietnam War escalated into a War in Iraq and the new and improved "perpetual war," that pits America v. everyone. Here Amendola and company have made one of the most important musical statements of this shitty state of affairs thus far. Carla Bozulich, the voice on track #7, haunts and whispers the first verse of words over a slow drum march. Piece by piece they come: Nels Cline samples and holds a brilliant, scary, electric guitar drone; the violin sustains in shades of black and gray; and the tension amasses like troops on a victim’s border. The voice kills... Blood, blood, blood and the band erupts into an anthemic saxophone solo section written by Amendola. Eric Crystal lets loose, screaming and yelling every passionate thought through the tenor beast. The power is unrelenting and explodes into a scream and Carla announces, "even Jesus wouldn't forgive what you do."
"Rosa," the final track, and the coda to this band's story, has the group providing a mantelpiece of acoustic sound, a fireplace to spend a cold winter night in front of, pondering tomorrow... Well, tomorrow's come and I’ve been listening to this record for a week now. But I feel like it’s been in the collective conscience all along, waiting for someone to articulate it in this fashion. Dancing around each other in simplicity and virtue, the Scott Amendola Band plays with a sensitivity and openness that vibrates with creativity and explodes into one’s ears. Each member of this band brings a completely unique voice to the group. This ensemble is so deep, and the arrangements so open, that the songs consistently push beyond the mezzosphere, leaving the listener with a constantly shifting landscape. Not unlike a coast-to-coast train ride thru deserts, mountains, valleys, forests and swamps, the terrain is constantly changing before your mind.
Todd Sickafoose's upright bass, the foundation of this house, sounds warm and present, and with a constant rotation of ideas pushes the emotional vanguard of the rhythm section. The melodies and harmonies, dissonance and subtlety of Jenny Scheinman's violin playing is the perfect counterpoint to the dark and brooding, beautiful and seething guitar work by Mr. Cline. And without Eric Crystal the sound is incomplete. Here the saxophone provides that extra shade of blue, the perfect balance, a mix between the majesty of John Coltrane's tenor and soprano playing, the lush subtones of Coleman Hawkins, and the uninhibited fury of John Tchicai and John Gilmore.
His drumming skills being well known in the music world, Amendola's playing is constantly evolving, and unafraid. Here he brings out his entire arsenal of sound, using guitar pedals and electronics, his bare hands, feet and whatever else he feels at the present moment. He plays drums very well, and it would be easy to stop there. But what lies behind the curtain, the value in this record as I see it, is not just in the drumming but in the stories written, the sonic pictures conceived and arranged by this amazing drummer.
Well, nothing's as it seems. Test out your hippie-dance skills on this one…
Cry is now available on Cryptogramophone Records. The Scott Amendola Band will be performing a few special shows this month (the Cry For Peace Tour 2003) in support of its release:
02.25 | San Francisco, CA | Great American Music Hall | 8pm, all ages
SF record release party! Plus Carla Kihlstedt's Two Foot Yard and Good For Cows.
02.26 | Winters, CA | Palm's Play House | 8pm, all ages
02.27 | San Jose, CA | Kuumbwa Jazz Center | 7pm, all ages
02.28 | Santa Rosa, CA | The Old Vic | 9:30pm, ages 21+
03.02 | Santa Monica, CA | The Temple Bar | 9pm, ages 21+
JamBase | Bay Area
Go See Live Music!