Scott Amendola Band: Cry (2003)
Throw Ornette Coleman, King Crimson, Tortoise, and Charlie Hunter into a blender and you'll get the idiosyncratic free jazz/out rock ensemble known as the Scott Amendola Band. Obviously the music on Cry is not too easy to categorize, but it's fun to check out the little bits and pieces here and there to see which ones fall into neat bins. All DIY, of course.
The (mostly) quintet Band is a power trio at its core, and that's also an important fact. The leader takes on the groove most of the time, regularly imparting momentum to the interlocking bass and guitar. During moments of maximum funk, all relative herethis is a free jazz record, remember?bassist Todd Sickafoose has a strong propensity to sink it deep with repeating vamps. At first that seems like a ploy to prop up the beat without stretching it, then the inner logic becomes clear as his notes tuck themselves neatly between the rest of the group's. It's just a style thing.
Toward the beginning of "Whisper Scream" we get to hear Nels Cline gently stroke a melody with his pick through a distorted and stretched guitar. That's the culmination of a minute or two of extremely unpredictable soft-loud free improv, and the bridge to a nice low-key pastoral theme. The transition points are fun to wait for, but never predictable. Since each player tries to use his (or her) instrument as a voice in this piece, it ends up legato, bowed, and carefully phrased. The title sort of gives it away, but that's really only the beginning of the subject. We do have a saxophonist in the house.
Speaking of Eric Crystal, whose alto saxophone voice has that mandatory bird-like quality, he gets his time in as leader, accompanist, and free jazz equal. The most remarkable thing is that he never really completes his sentences. Crystal gently lifts his phrases at the end, pulling back so you wait for more; or he pauses obliquely as if in question; he fades away suddenly without telling where he's going. And there are very, very few exceptions to this rule. It's a style thing.
The group makes a perfect setting for Nels Cline to do what he does best: working his way chameleon-like into almost any musical situation from in to out. It's most interesting when he crosses the lines, as on the strangely dissonant ending to the otherwise forward-looking "My Son, the Wanderer." His string voice connects in completely unexpected ways with violinist Jenny Scheinman here and elsewhere, especially during themes and heads, where it's really hard to pull the two of them apart. And when it comes to Ornette-ish moments like the intro to "Streetbeat" (think 1959, Charlie Haden and Don Cherry at his side, pulling that rough, hard alto down the sweetest and oddest melodies) everyone takes a different route from the start to the end, but they all get there at the same time.
And that's the revelation of Cry.
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Track Listing: 1. His Eye Is on the Sparrow (5:51) 2. Bantu (4:49) 3. A Cry for John Brown (12:03) 4. Whisper, Scream (9:32) 5. My Son the Wanderer (9:10) 6. Streetbeat (6:41) 7. Masters of War (9:12) 8. Rosa (8:08)
Personnel: Jenny Scheinman: violin; Nels Cline: guitar; Eric Crystal: saxophones; Todd Sickafoose: acoustic bass; Carla Bozulich: vocals (7); Scott Amendola: drums, percussion.