Scott Amendola's chamber-jam
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., May 15, 2003) – In its full guise, the Scott Amendola Band is a quintet including a saxophonist. But the group appeared as a foursome on Wednesday night sans horn, and given the resulting delicacy of the format, one could hardly want or need the brass.

As it appeared, the group was a kind of string trio with percussion. Though drummer Amendola was the bandleader and composer, violinist Jenny Scheinman, who could seemingly play anything and in any style, was the lead voice of the group, with electric guitarist Nels Cline and double-bassist Todd Sickafoose rounding out the quartet.

Taken as a whole, the music was a kind of chamber jazz – imagine the Modern Jazz Quartet as a jam-band, with Cline playing vibist Milt Jackson’s role and Scheinman as pianist John Lewis. Of course the music the group played was far afield from the austere landscapes of the MJQ, but it was no less beautiful in its architectural elegance and interlocking latticework.

Credit composer Amendola for piecing together this ensemble of virtuosos, as innovative in their approach to their instruments as they were in what they played. And unlike the average, journeyman jam-band, where individual soloists take turns noodling self-indulgently to the exclusion of the other players (and often to the exclusion of the composition and the audience), Amendola’s players were always a coherent unit, even when they were stretching his musical matrices to their limit.

On “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” based on the spiritual by that name, Cline laid down an atmospheric bed of effects by using his slide as a bow below the bridge, over which Scheinman played an evocative, 19th-century style Appalachian melody.

On “Believe,” Amendola propelled the piece with a stuttering rhythm that repeatedly exploded in trills and rollovers, while Scheinman played long, drawn-out notes that Cline punctuated with bits of single-note rejoinders and commentary. In the middle section, Cline and Scheinman conjoined in rhythmic, repetitive, discordant couplets, like Philip Glass as interpreted by Sonic Youth.

As its name suggests, “Bantu” hinted at African rhythms, and Cline kicked it off with kora-like ostinatos on guitar. “Street Beat” gave Amendola the chance to shine in an opening drum solo fired by rim shots and side shots, before Sickafoose took a walking bass line into a swift jog, passing the baton to Cline who ran with an avant-surf torrent of notes with highly textured bends and bits of distortion.

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on May 17, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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