Scott Amendola Band: Believe (2005)
With instrumentation that includes up to 26 reverberating strings accompanying a drum kit, Scott Amendola's Believe has a lot of resonance. Comprised of Jenny Scheinman (violin), Nels Cline and Jeff Parker (guitars), John Shifflett (bass), and Amendola (drums, percussion and electronics); the album should stand as a high water mark for all types of music this year. Unusual instrumentation aside, Believe encompasses nine-minute ballads, alt-country leads, jazz freak out sections, and more, covering a lot of ground during its hour-plus journey. And the recording resonates with the listener as well, calling you back to revisit its aural destinations.
Amendola's band may be comprised of a collection of musicians who are each leaders in their own right, but they perform as a true ensemble with a distinct vision. And although the instrumentation may lead you to believe this is a dense milieu of sound, these musicians know how to create space and moodsknowing when not to play. Knowing how to serve a space between notes, just as much as they focus on the notes that are being played. All this lends to a musical personality that covers a wide swath of styles and variations, holding something for just about every type of listener.
Amendola, who wrote all the music here, has a penchant for memorable melodies that serve as the perfect vehicles for these musicians. Every track carries a unique identity, from the Afrobeat of "Oladipo to "Valentine, with Scheinman in particular providing a lyrical solo; "Resistance, with its ensemble march of agitated sounds that move with the drive of the Amendola's drumming; and "Cesar Chavez, sounding like a more immediate and raw version of Brian Blade's Blue Note Fellowship records.
The nine-minute ballad "If Only Once makes you wonder why more are not approached in this manner, both in length and style. Overwrought sentimentality often carries ballads from their original intent, however, here everyone contributes without affliction to the overall story with his or her own vignettes.
In naming a single standout, it would be hard not to pick "Buffalo Bird Woman, with what Amendola describes as a "Neil Young and Crazy Horse-like raw energy romp. Opening amidst some electronic noise, Shifflett emerges with a meaty tone and eventually meets up with a repeating guitar riff and a sweeping bend that sounds lackadaisical in nature, but conjures a serene image of riding through New Mexico at dusk. Everyone takes a turn on the melody, developing their own variations and building to a crescendo that evaporates into the mist from which the song evolved.
In the end, like most of the album, "Buffalo Bird Woman isn't a barn burner. Nor is it some self-righteously profound musical statement. These songs are simply memorable music delivered with utmost creativity, both compositionally and improvisationally. The most beautiful part about this music is that it tends to resonate with you long after the journey has ended.
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Track Listing: Believe; Olidapo; Shady; If Only Once; Buffalo Bird Woman; Smarty Pants; Valentine; Resistance; Cesar Chavez.
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.