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 debut.

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 endeavors.

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 with distortion.

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 phrases.

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.

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