August 30, 2002
AMENDOLA AT HOME IN TRIO, QUARTET, QUINTET
By Andrew Gilbert
It's a wonder that Scott Amendola finds time to lead his own band.
One of the busiest and certainly most creative drummers in the Bay
Area, Amendola is at the center of several outstanding ensembles,
including a remarkable trio with pianist Art Hirahara and bassist
Todd Sickafoose; guitarist Jim Campilongo's rootsy band; and an electronica
quartet known as CRATER. But it's as a leader that Amendola is at
his most dynamic, laying down supple grooves for his superlative
quintet, which opens a West Coast tour Monday night at Yoshi's.
Utilizing pretty much the same instrumentation as alto saxophonist
John Handy's groundbreaking group that made a classic live recording
at the 1965 Monterey Jazz Festival, Amendola's band features bassist
Sickafoose, violinist Jenny Scheinman, guitarist Nels Cline and saxophonist
Eric Crystal (who also performs next week at Yoshi's with Cuban pianist
Though Amendola's band has established itself as one of the most
potent improvising ensembles on the scene, it has largely been absent
from Bay Area bandstands for most of the year. The band has to contend
not only with Amendola's hectic schedule, but also with geography,
as Scheinman now lives in Brooklyn, and Cline is based in Los Angeles.
The relationship with Cline has become increasingly important for
Amendola over the past two years. A creative catalyst on the Southern
California music scene for more than two decades, Cline is widely
revered by other musicians for his catholic tastes, ranging from
power rock gigs with bassist Mike Watt to free improv sessions with
keyboardist Don Preston, an early associate of Frank Zappa.
"Nels has been around and he's a musicologist in his own way," said
Amendola, 33. "It's incredible to work with someone who's got such
a wide musical sensibility."
Cline and Amendola first started playing together
in the free improv ensemble Stinkbug (now L. Stinkbug). Their musical
connection deepened when Cline started a new group to play his
expansive compositions, the Nels Cline Singers, with bassist Devon
Hoff. The band recently released a spooky, provocative album on
When guitarist Dave MacNab had to leave Amendola's quintet, Cline
joined in, giving the group a volatile edge and a wider sonic palette.
The quintet is slated to release its second album on Cryptogramophone
later this year.
While it might seem as though Amendola is spreading
himself too thin, he has actually focused his attention in the
past year, concentrating on bands that provide a huge creative
return. "I've said no to a
bunch of stuff. I'm realizing more and more where I want to be, who
I am and what I want to do," Amendola said. It's no coincidence
that so many of his commitments also involve Cline.
CRATER is another point of connection between the two musicians.
The quartet also features Sickafoose and the electronic musician
named jhno on laptop, and has occasionally incorporated projections
by Carole Kim, an improvising video artist from Los Angeles. It's
a band that deals mostly in textures, creating beautiful, sometimes
chaotic waves of sound that surge and crest and then recede into
quiet, shimmering passages. CRATER performs Sept. 20 at Bruno's in
San Francisco and on Sept. 22 at Blake's in Berkeley.
Given his extensive involvement with Amendola,
Cline offers some insight into why Amendola seems to be at the
center of so many of the most interesting bands. Stipulating his
brilliance as a player and his musical flexibility, Cline notes
that Amendola is remarkably self-possessed. "He takes care of business,
and tends to be a lot of people's dad. He has all these responsibilities,
because he's able to handle things, so people rely on him."
Pianist Art Hirahara joined the cooperative trio with Amendola and
Sickafoose just over a year ago. The three musicians have honed a
highly flexible group approach during a steady Monday night gig at
Bacar, a swanky San Francisco restaurant in the SoMa district that
has turned into one of the city's leading jazz spots since Amendola
started booking it last year. The band has yet to release an album,
but they recorded a July gig at Yoshi's, then spent time working
in the studio. The trio plays tonight at Downtown in Berkeley.
"The group has definitely opened up new areas for me as a player
and a writer," Hirahara said. "It's so openly structured. There are
some times we'll just play, not necessarily a song, just to see where
it goes. It's definitely not a traditional straight-ahead jazz group.
We're not locked into any particular groove or style. There's the
ability for anything to happen at any moment."