A quick look at the personnel on this record should make two things clear right away, before you even hit play. First, the assorted misfits in the collection, who have worked in a mind-blowing array of improvised and experimental music styles, aren't likely to be pinned down or categorized here any more than they are elsewhere. Second, everyone but the leader, drummer Scott Amendola, plays a string instrument, which means that this miniature string orchestraa quintet featuring violin, guitars, and bassis likely to have a reverberant, textured sound. Which it does, but not always in the usual way, because there's also a heap of electronics in the signal path.
But that's about all the predictability that Believe has to offer. Bits and pieces bear some resemblance to familiar territory. For example, the second piece, "Oladipo," fairly drips with polyrhythmic funk, driven by pulsing guitar riffs and the sort of New Orleans-meets-Lagos drumming that Tony Allen invented back in Fela Kuti's golden era of Afro-beat. But the wildly effected and noisy guitar solo that Jeff Parker slips in midway through is a sign that this is 21st Century material. One thing a lot of people don't know about Tony Allen is that he took care of keeping Fela's biggish band together behind the scenes, and I suspect that Amendola is similarly responsible for this group's overall coherence.
The next piece, "Shady," offers a whiff of Americana through its rich harmonies, long tones, and warm character. Jenny Scheinman's violin playing certainly pushes things in that direction, but the barely restrained tension that comes and goes throughout the piece renders it significantly spikier. Things fully relax on "If Only Once," a lament which takes advantage of all those reverberating strings, but it's immediately followed by a harsh onslaught of square waves and driving country-rock energy when "Buffalo Bird Woman" kicks in.
Further pieces explore clean bop, lightly overlaid percussion, and outright aggression, in bits and pieces or in bulk. At some point it's better not to try too hard to classify this music, though, because the process is destined to be futile. Like Scott Amendola's previous outing, Cry (2003), the real goodies lie at the often difficult (and sometimes counterintuitive) intersections, not on the straight and narrow.
Brilliantly conceived and masterfully executed.
Visit Scott Amendola, Jenny Scheinman, Nels Cline, and John Shifflett on the web.
Personnel: Jenny Scheinman: violin; Nels Cline: six and twelve-string guitars, lap steel guitar; Jeff
Parker: guitar; John Shifflett: bass; Scott Amendola: drums, percussion, loops, live
electronics, treatments, electric mbira, melodica.