A lot has changed since his days with Hunter and TJ Kirk. The muscular sound remains, as does the indefatigable sense of time and groove. But with Cry, Amendola stretches into new and unknown territory.
Take the opening track, "His Eye is on the Sparrow". With guitarist Nels Cline creating ambient backwashes and violinist Jenny Scheinman contributing deep, heartfelt melodies, Amendola creates a vibe that could easily fit in Bill Frisell’s universe. Brushes, shakers and other percussion instruments show a more subtle side to Amendola’s playing.
But the peaceful beginning soon breaks as the band kicks into the African groove inflected "Bantu". Cline continues to prove that he is a musical chameleon, with the ability to fit any context, any style.
Amendola rarely solos, but his confident playing underpins the entire recording. Bassist Todd Sicakfoose and Nels Cline complete the rhythm section that continues, throughout the rest of the album, to defy style and description. This is the second album by the band, but the first with Nels Cline in the guitar chair and the difference is palpable.
"A Cry for John Brown" starts off with a loose, out-of-time intro, but soon moves into more of a fusion/funk affair. Cline takes a solo that sounds like it would comfortably fit onto a King Crimson record, with its almost mathematically-precise linear work and distorted chord passages. But Cline has more emotional impact than Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, and a stylistic breadth that takes the solo into outer reaches that you’d never hear on a Crimson record. Scheinman, who I’d previously only heard with Bill Frisell’s Intercontinental group, also displays surprising fire and intensity in her solo.
"Whisper, Scream" shows the band’s ability to tackle a free-form piece; "My Son, the Wanderer" is a medium-tempo Middle Eastern affair, with a memorable violin/sax melody. Eric Crystal’s soprano sax solo could charm a snake; Scheinman contributes a lithe solo; and once again Cline shows his ability to meld into any style.
"Streetbeat" finds the band in the most straight-ahead jazz mode of the record. Amendola swings furiously over Sickafoose’s walking bass lines, while Crystal offers a solo that is part Ornette, yet all his own.
The only track I have difficulty with is Amendola’s reading of Bob Dylan’s "Masters of War", featuring Carla Bozulich on a vocal reading that builds from a whisper to a scream. As an indictment of war, the track is a success in its gradual descent into an almost heavy metal chaos; but somehow it just doesn’t move me.
The album closes with "Rosa", featuring gorgeous acoustic work from Cline. While the Scott Amendola band is clearly a collective effort with outstanding playing from everyone, Cline is surely the shining star.But for all its powerful performances from everyone involved, Cry is, in the end, a remarkably selfless affair where all players surrender to the demands of the material. Amendola proves himself to be, as always, a masterful player and, more unexpectedly, an assured leader who, while mining a variety of musical styles, has a clear focus on improvisation and a collective sound that makes the diversity work for the group, rather than against it.