This is drummer Scott Amendola's second recording as a leader, although his first, recorded in late 1999, was an independent release and not widely distributed. Amendola's debut on the West Coast Cryptogramophone label (with better distribution, hopefully) has him retaining four-fifths of his quintet, with label regular Nels Cline newly added on guitars. Jenny Scheinman continues on violin, Todd Sickafoose remains on acoustic bass, and Eric Crystal is once again on saxophones. Amendola wrote or arranged all the compositions on this CD, and he definitely has an interactive group sound in mind. Solo space is quite generous (the eight tracks are seven to eight minutes long on the average) but the blend of violin, sax, and guitar also makes for a great ensemble sound, and the musicians frequently comp behind each other, providing additional texture and ear-pleasing counterpoint.
Jazz musicians of Amendola's age, disposition, and talent are anything but rigid when it comes to interests and influences, and Cry is not only tight and passionate, but also highly eclectic. As a drummer, Amendola never seems to be striving for any specific effect, but he has a great sense of dynamics, and is always deep in the groove. He's a percussionist who seemingly can't help being funky (quietly or exuberantly) no matter what he's playing. His bandmates are equally versatile. Scheinman has classical training, has played with hybrid avant-rock groups such as Charming Hostess, and is a student of Eastern European/Jewish folk music. Guitarist Cline has acquired a substantial reputation, both as leader and bandmember, for effortlessly navigating a stylistic range that runs from nuanced acoustic picking through thrash, grunge, and free playing, and into Hendrix-style blues. The reputations of saxophonist Eric Crystal and bassist Todd Sickafoose are perhaps more closely bound to the San Francisco Bay area, but they too are experienced musicians who have played in a variety of musical contexts -- folk, blues, pop, alt-rock, and jazz. Crystal's playing on this CD is particularly fluid and confident. He has some great exchanges with Cline, and the two of them sound like they are having enormous fun testing each other's mettle.
The imaginative program on this CD begins with a traditional Christian hymn, "His Eye is On the Sparrow," featuring Scheinman's ravishingly ethereal violin, and then jumps into the jaunty worldbeat fusion of "Bantu," followed by an affecting but propulsive "A Cry for John Brown," where Crystal, Cline, and then Scheinman, queue up one after another to dazzle with their invention, passion, and technical skill. Cline's solo, especially, is a model of controlled chaos, building to an apex of totally fuzzed-out distortion before slipping deftly back into the theme. Every track has new treasures to offer, from the angular post-bop of "Streetbeat," the combination of dissonant, unsettling free improv, and introspective lyricism on "Whisper, Scream," the modal mysticism of "My Son, the Wanderer," the chilling, funereal vision of Bob Dylan's "Masters of War" (with guest vocalist Carla Bozulich), and the spare, understated beauty of the closing "Rosa," which features Cline's pensive and delicate acoustic guitar work. Indeed, this one has it all.