Drummer Scott Amendola graduated from Berklee in the early 90s and moved to San Francisco, where he soon made a name for himself playing in guitarist Charlie Hunter's group. His skill at maintaining a pulse in wide-open terrain and stoking imperturbable grooves has landed him plenty of work since then: he's flourished in projects with broad appeal (Hunter, the quartet called T.J. Kirk, Oranj Symphonette) as well as in more rigorous settings (Paul Plimley Trio, Jenny Scheinman's group, with Pat Martino). His work with his own band falls somewhere in between. A few years ago he made a nice splash with his self-released eponymous debut album--a rock-tinged outing that relied too heavily on Bill Frisell-style pastoralism--but his new disc, Cry (Cryptogramophone), demonstrates not just his range as a drummer but also his reach as a composer. The jaunty "Bantu" stretches its melody over Afrobeat grooves and heavy Jamaican syncopation like a gauzy curtain, while "Whisper, Scream" ditches melody altogether in favor of a grueling bout of noisy free playing. The covers are no less remarkable: Scheinman's violin imparts weightless solemnity to Amendola's adaptation of "His Eye Is on the Sparrow," a turn-of-the-century gospel tune later interpreted by Ethel Waters, and Carla Bozulich of the Geraldine Fibbers delivers Bob Dylan's "Masters of War" as a rant while instrumental chaos boils underneath. Amendola's choice of players also deserves credit. While there's nothing particularly special about the zigzagging melody in "A Cry for John Brown," guitarist Nels Cline brings it to life with a solo that spirals ahead with increasing intensity. Scheinman and reedist Eric Crystal work exceptionally well in tandem, delivering tightly registered unison lines or playing just off each other to give the music greater motion and depth--although I'm not crazy about Crystal's soprano sax work, where his tone is flimsy and his phrasing sappy. Through it all Amendola does what he needs to do, whether helming thick grooves or driving the detailed explorations of color forward. Thursday, May 8, 9:30 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lenny Gonzalez.