February 3, 2007
NEW YORK TIMES
MUSIC REVIEW | 'SCOTT AMENDOLA'
Kindred Spirits in Groove
By Nate Chinen
Scott Amendola on drums and Nels Cline
on guitar at Tonic.
Julieta Cervantes/The New York Times
The drummer Scott Amendola could fairly be described as a jazz musician
with an investment in the imperatives of groove. He seems to come
by his eclecticism naturally: when rock, bebop and Afrobeat take
turns surfacing in his music, they do so in a way that feels loose
and unforced. Perhaps it says something that Mr. Amendola makes his
home in Berkeley, Calif., a place where cosmopolitanism jibes with
crunchiness. Or maybe his aesthetic just reflects the interests of
a peer group weaned on myriad musical cultures.
Whatever the case, Mr. Amendola has sympathetic
partners both within and well beyond the Bay Area scene. Two years
ago he released a thoughtful album called “Believe” (Cryptogramophone)
that featured a pair of guitarists, Jeff Parker and Nels Cline,
as well as the bassist John Shifflett and the violinist Jenny Scheinman.
Though most of these musicians have Northern California ties, they
are currently scattered across the country, which partly accounts
for why their show at Tonic on Thursday night was a collective
The group’s chewy center was the interplay between Mr. Parker
and Mr. Cline, who worked in a respectful tandem. Both guitarists
are associated with coolly experimental Chicago-based rock bands — Mr.
Parker plays with Tortoise, Mr. Cline with Wilco — but the
Tonic crowd seemed equally familiar with their smaller-scale solo
On “Smarty Pants,” a playful scrap of post-bop, and “Oladipo,” a
tribute to the legendary Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen, the guitarists
soloed in quick succession, providing a scintillating contrast. Mr.
Parker came off as the more liquid stylist, while Mr. Cline was spiky
and intense. But both expertly employed space and tension, along
Ms. Scheinman carried most of Mr. Amendola’s melodies with
a balance of expressiveness and precision. After establishing the
main leaping interval of “Believe,” she swerved into
textural territory: scraping her bow across the strings, scratching
at an arrhythmic pattern, even twisting her torso at one point to
achieve a warping Doppler effect. She was more straightforward, more
like a lead singer, on “Buffalo Bird Woman,” which evoked
the glacial chug of Neil
Young and Crazy Horse.
The two strongest pieces in the set brought
Ms. Scheinman onto the same dynamic plane as the guitars. On a
ballad called “If Only
Once,” she shared lyrical duties with Mr. Cline, who demonstrated
sensitivity and restraint in an improvisation over a ragalike pedal
tone. Ms. Scheinman’s solo on the tune was stately but not
remote; she packed many shades of melancholy into a few understated
The other highlight, “Shady,” featured
a deceptively simple major-key melody, like one of the sly, squirrelly
themes typical of the drummer-composer Paul Motian. But in the
hands of Mr. Amendola and his colleagues, the tune built to an
oceanic tumult. Though each player was straining hard against it,
the results sounded like the collaborative effort of a band.