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  • Scott Amendola (2002)

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    Music writer Derk Richardson’s oft-quoted observation that “If Scott
    Amendola didn’t exist the San Francisco music scene would have to
    invent him,” is more true than ever. But what’s become evident in
    recent years is that the extraordinarily resourceful drummer has
    evolved into a paragon of self-invention, a bandleader, composer and
    invaluable creative collaborator at the center of a vast array of
    improvisational ensembles.
    While rooted in the San Francisco Bay Area scene, Amendola has
    woven a dense and far reaching web of bandstand relationships that
    tie him to influential figures in jazz, blues, groove, rock and new
    music. An organizer by nature, he has become a creative nexus for a
    community of musicians stretching from Los Angeles and Seattle to
    Chicago and New York.
    While he first gained widespread notice a decade ago for his work in
    eight-string guitar ace Charlie Hunter’s trio, in recent years Amendola
    has stepped forward as the leader of several compelling bands that
    showcase his supremely supple trap work. He continues to work as a
    sideman, accompanying artists such as the tart-toned vocalist
    Madeleine Peyroux, guitarist and singer/songwriter Kelly Joe Phelps
    and the Nels Cline Singers (a volatile instrumental trio without a
    vocalist), but it’s as a bandleader that Amendola’s dynamic, everevolving
    style is best showcased.
    A perfect example is a recent recording session for his next release
    (2005) as a bandleader featuring Los Angeles guitar hero Nels Cline
    and the visionary Chicago fret-master Jeff Parker, violinist Jenny
    Scheinman and stand-up bassist John Shifflett. The music is full of
    extreme dynamic shifts and a crunching rock edge, with Amendola
    adding textural electronic elements into his trap work via an effects
    pedal board. “I’m getting more into sonic things with the pedals,
    exploring noise, distortion and sonic textures by manipulating acoustic
    sounds. I sample myself live, and then whatever happens happens.
    It’s totally improvised, though I’m developing a vocabulary with it.”
    The quintet isn’t a working band, but it captures the eclectic nature of
    Amendola’s sound, with its peculiar mix of electric and acoustic
    instruments. It’s not jazz-fusion in any traditional sense, rather the
    group draws without prejudice from a huge array of influences, moving
    effortlessly from dense, thundering rock to lilting, melodically driven
    song-like pieces. “I feel like my whole thing as a leader has been
    about trying to put all this stuff together,” Amendola says. “This new
    band is just strings and percussion, with acoustic bass, violin and two
    guitars. I don’t mind playing a song that sounds like Crazy Horse, or a
    tune that Nels refers to as the Pacific Jazz Quintet, with an old school
    West Coast jazz vibe.”
    In many ways, the new quintet is an offshoot of the original Scott
    Amendola Band, the group that cemented the drummer’s reputation as
    a bandleader with a captivating aural vision. The original quintet’s
    unusual instrumentation of saxophones, violin, acoustic bass, electric
    guitar and trap set gave the band a signature sound, while Amendola’s
    open-ended compositions grew out of captivating grooves from
    Afrobeat to off-kilter funk to Ornette Coleman inspired jazz pieces to
    lush ballads.
    Cline wasn’t on hand for the band’s eponymous debut album in 1999,
    but he contributed to the quintet’s combustible chemistry on the 2003
    Cryptogramophone album “Cry.” For Cline, Amendola’s surging
    creative energy was apparent at their initial encounter. “The first time
    I heard Scott I was really blown away,” Cline says. “There aren’t too
    many drummers on the West Coast who had his wide ranging ability.
    Scott’s got some funk in him, a looser, sexy thing going on, and the
    flexibility to play free and different styles. He plays behind
    singer/songwriters and he rocks too.”
    Now that Cline is spending most of his time on the road with Wilco,
    Amendola has taken his band in yet a new direction, exploring the
    transparent, unplugged dynamics of a chamber ensemble. The latest
    incarnation of Amendola’s band is a quartet called ‘Scott Amendola
    Band-Chambers of Grace’, featuring bassist John Shifflett, violinist
    Jenny Scheinman and Art Hirahara on piano and Fender Rhodes. The
    band’s book is similar to Amendola’s old quintet, with some
    instrumental covers. But the band’s repertoire is mostly made up of
    Amendola’s engaging original tunes, pieces that are so well crafted
    they can work as high-velocity fusion or as gentle, folk-like themes.
    “Chambers of Grace is the acoustic version of my band,” Amendola
    says. “The irony being the Rhodes isn’t acoustic, but it’s as close as
    you can get without a digital piano, and I don’t want that. I’d much
    rather have another sound that will complement the violin really well.
    It’s more of a chamber group but it’s also an orchestra. It could also
    be a little more Keith Jarrett, jazzy and acoustic, or from the Carter
    Family to a string quartet.”
    Chambers of Grace recently recorded a live performance at Yoshi’s
    that is slated for release sometime in late 2005. The group has turned
    into a particularly effective showcase for Scheinman, whose career has
    flourished through her work with guitarist Bill Frisell and
    pianist/composer Myra Melford since she relocated from the Bay Area
    to Brooklyn five years ago. “His compositions have very strong and
    clear and accessible melodies,” Scheinman says. ”Every tune is based
    on a drum part that he really enjoys playing, and when Scott’s happy
    there’s so much joy coming out of him.”
    Around the Bay Area, Amendola explores the many facets of his
    expansive rhythmic sensibility in an intriguing series of small combos.
    As a jazz player, for instance, he’s performed extensively with the
    cooperative group ‘plays Monk’, a trio featuring clarinetist Ben
    Goldberg and bassist Devin Hoff that focuses on the brilliant, knotty
    composition of modern jazz giant Thelonious Monk. “We’ve created
    certain moods for tunes, more than developing set arrangements,”
    Amendola says. “What really makes the trio its own thing and opens
    up possibilities is the lack of a chordal instrument. We’ve all played
    and listened to a lot of Thelonious Monk. One could really study Monk’s
    music for a lifetime.”
    There’s also the new potent groove trio with the blazing Hammond B3
    newcomer Wil Blades and the brilliant guitarist Will Bernard, whose
    relationship with Amendola dates back to their days in the fondly
    recalled T.J. Kirk. In a more straight-ahead vein, Amendola has been
    performing in a trio version of his band with guitarist Dave Mac Nab,
    an original member of the Scott Amendola Band, and Shifflett on
    acoustic bass. While the group’s sound continues to evolve, it keys on
    Mac Nab’s lean, clean sound, which mostly eschews effects and
    distortion. “That trio is definitely more inside,” Amendola says. “There
    are sonic textures, and Dave does use some pedals, but it’s really
    about songs and melodies and chords more than soundscapes.”
    Soundscapes are the focus of the improvisational acoustic-electronic
    group known as CRATER, Amendola’s collaboration with laptop artist
    JNHO. They first worked together in the band Wavelord, which was a
    group more focused on composition. CRATER is an improv-centric
    ensemble that has utilized a revolving cast of players, most notably
    Nels Cline, though at various times the group has featured violinist
    Carla Kihlstedt, and cellists Matt Brubeck and Marika Hughes as well as
    guitarists Avi Bortnick and Will Bernard. On a number of occasions the
    group has turned into a multimedia project with visual artist Carole
    Kim. In many ways, CRATER has become the locus of Amendola’s
    most ambitious musical thinking. “I want to do Huge CRATER,” he
    says, “with a visual artist, and a string section featuring Carla and
    Marika and with Devin Hoff on contrabass, a horn section consisting of
    the ROVA Saxophone Quartet and Ben Goldberg, and the rhythm
    section with a guitar player, using section leaders to organize the
    Amendola's past musical connections are vast and varied, including
    recordings, tours and performances with artists such as Bill Frisell,
    Wadada Leo Smith, Shweta Jhaveri, Larry Goldings, Jeff Parker, Sex
    Mob, Larry Klein, Darryl Johnson, Carla Bozulich, Robin Holcomb and
    the Joe Goode Dance Group, Wayne Horvitz, Johnny Griffin, Viktor
    Krauss, Tony Furtado, Julian Priester, Jessica Lurie, Sonny Simmons,
    ROVA Saxophone Quartet, Pat Martino, Peter Apfelbaum, Jim
    Campilongo, Bobby Black, Paul McCandless, Ben Goldberg, Noe
    Venable, and Mark Turner. He considers all of these formative
    experiences, but singles out a few gigs as particularly inspiring,
    including a six-week European tour with pianist Jacky Terrasson, and a
    performance at the Jazzschool in Berkeley with saxophonist Dave
    Liebman that was documented on a live recording. He also mentions
    exploring the music of Masada with John Zorn, recording with
    Vancouver-based piano master Paul Plimley and bassist Lisle Ellis, and
    touring in Europe with trumpeter Jack Walrath. "Jack's whole thing is
    he’s constantly playing, he’s constantly part of the music," Amendola
    explains. "When you’re a horn player you tend to do your solo and
    then sit back, but he was always injecting ideas and keeping the
    intensity up."
    Born and raised in the New Jersey suburb of Tenafly, just a stone’s
    throw from New York City, Amendola was the kind of kid who showed
    an inclination for rhythm almost from the moment he could walk. His
    grandfather Tony Gottuso, a highly respected guitarist who split his
    time between studio sessions, was a member of the original Tonight
    Show Band under Steve Allen, and would do gigs with jazz luminaries
    such as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, and Nat “King”
    Cole, offered plenty of support when Amendola began to get interested
    in jazz. “ We used to play together a lot when I was a teenager. It
    had a huge impact on me to play with someone who was around when
    a lot of the standards that musicians like Miles Davis, John Coltrane,
    and Keith Jarrett play.”
    “I used to bang on things as a kid,” Amendola says. “I’d just sit around
    banging on pots and pans and coffee cans. When I was nine, we had
    to pick an instrument in school, and I started studying drums at
    His passion for music only deepened during his four years at Boston’s
    Berklee College of Music, where it wasn’t unusual for him to practice
    for 12 hours a day. Drawing inspiration from fellow students such as
    Jorge Rossi, Jim Black, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Mark Turner, and
    studying with the likes of Joe Hunt and Tommy Campbell, Amendola
    decided he had to find his own voice rather than modeling himself
    after established drummers. After graduating in 1992, he decided to
    move to San Francisco, where he quickly hooked up with Charlie
    Hunter. They went on to play together with John Schott and Will
    Bernard in the three-guitar-and-drums funk jazz super group T.J. Kirk
    that was nominated for a Grammy in 1996.
    “From the first gig we played together Charlie and I had a really great
    hook-up,” Amendola says. “Ever since I played with my grandfather
    I’ve just really loved the guitar and I wanted to meet a young guitar
    player who was doing something different. And you can’t get more
    different than what Charlie’s doing.”
    While Hunter and many of the other players Amendola worked with in
    the 90s have moved to New York, the drummer feels he’s found the
    perfect environment in the San Francisco Bay Area. With creative
    relationships spreading out across the country, he’s never more than
    one degree away from a powerful musical hook-up.
    Pick Artist Album Song Label
    # 1 John Coltrane Crescent Crescent (Impulse)
    # 2 Duke Ellington Far East Suite Tourist Point of View (RCA)
    # 3 Paul Motian Trioism It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago (JMT)
    # 4 Miles Davis 1969 Festiva de Juan Pins Directions (Sony)
    # 5 Bill Evans Waltz for Debby My Foolish Heart (OJC)
    # 6 Ornette Coleman Science Fiction Sessions Street Woman (Columbia)
    # 7 Ahmad Jamal Cross-Country Tour, 1958-1961 Poinciana (GRP)
    # 8 Weather Report Mysterious Traveller Blackthorn Rose (Columbia)
    Book e.e. cummings, "Complete Poems 1904-1962"; or Steve Biko, "I Write What I Like"
    Luxury Item An old Martin guitar
    Alternate Picks/Not Broadcast
    Alt 1 Nels Cline The Inkling N/A (Cryptogramophone)
    Alt 2 Egberto Gismonti and Nana Vasconcelos Duaz Vozes N/A (ECM)
    Alt 3 Glenn Gould J.S. Bach Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 N/A (Sony Classical)
    Alt 4 Mahalia Jackson 16 Most Requested Songs N/A (Columbia)
    Alt 5 Thelonious Monk Monk in Tokyo N/A (Columbia)
    Alt 6 Astor Piazzolla Luna N/A (Hemisphere)
    Alt 7 Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley N/A (Capitol)
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