Recorded in late 1999, this self-produced debut by Scott Amendola's band is perhaps a little less polished than his second release on the Cryptogramophone label, but it is nonetheless an impressive outing. Amendola formed his group in the spring of 1998, at least partly to give himself an opportunity to do some writing, and he penned all the songs on this CD except for one each by Jimi Hendrix, Fela Kuti, and Nick Drake. As a sideman throughout the '90s, Amendola had been part of the innovative T.J. Kirk group -- so named because of their devotion to the music of (T)helonius Monk, (J)ames Brown and Rahsaan Roland (Kirk) -- hence the acronym T.J. Kirk. Then Amendola spent several years as the drummer in guitarist Charlie Hunter's jazz quartet (playing on -- among other things -- a well-received cover album of Bob Marley tunes). So Amendola knows his territory well; this knowledge indicated, too, by his eclectic choice of Hendrix, Kuti, and British folkie Drake as "guest" composers on this CD. His seven pieces cover the full stylistic range of funk, blues, ballads, and one hymn-like dirge (appropriately titled "Hymn"). Jenny Scheinman's modal, vaguely Middle Eastern violin blends nicely with Eric Crystal's slinky alto/soprano sax and Dave Mac Nab's bluesy electric guitar, and Amendola's writing gives them lots of opportunity to interact -- both as a three-piece ensemble, and in little contrapuntal sections within the pieces that allow for the exchange of riffs and phrases on a more intimate level. "Slow Zig," for example, evolves into a kind of collective play between Scheinman, Crystal, and Amendola, where everyone maintains tempo but otherwise skitters around like bumper cars at an amusement park. It's a nice effect. "Hymn" takes a powerful Ayler-esque turn after a relatively placid beginning, with Amendola laying down a constant barrage of rolling thunder, and Crystal stepping out of the ensemble from time to time to testify ecstatically in the manner of Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, and Albert Ayler. Guitarist Mac Nab shines on "One of These Things First," featuring a mellow, slightly countrified melody line in the manner of Bill Frisell. Bassist Todd Sickafoose gets a chance to show off his ballad chops on the intro to the poignant "Diana Maria," and is followed by a lyrical solo from Mac Nab again. Then it's back to some greasy funk with "This Is Sad," which features Crystal strutting and swaggering in full R&B mode, with Mac Nab chicken-scratching behind him and Amendola, as always, just cookin'. In truth, this is a very solid recording, start to finish, and really exceptional for a debut. Definitely worth seeking out, although the best way to acquire it outside the San Francisco Bay area is probably through Amendola's own website.
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AllMusic Review by William Tilland