One night in June 2002, Bay Area-based drummer Scott Amendola finished recording the tracks for Cry, his second album as a bandleader. He and guitarist Nels Cline (who would join Wilco two years later) sat in the control room afterward. Commenting on the wide variety of material on Cry, Cline said with a laugh, “Good luck sequencing this record.”
“[Cline] was saying it sort of tongue-in-cheek, because it’s like we like all these kinds of music, and when we perform, there is a wide scope of what we do, but it all works because it’s all sincere, it’s all real,” Amendola says. “There’s no forcing someone to do something that they’re not [into]. It doesn’t mean that we’re not challenging ourselves and trying to play different stuff. It’s more about, yeah, we can play a tune that’s got a rock groove and we can play a jazzy, bop-ish type thing. We can play a pretty ballad and we can get super-noisy and sonic. That’s because we love all that.”
Amendola is referring to himself and Cline, as well as violinist Jenny Scheinman and bassist John Shifflett, who will join him for a pair of shows at Dazzle this weekend.
“The funny thing about Nels, Jenny and John is that I really think I can bring anything in to them and they’ll make it work,” he says. “So in that sense, there’s a wide scope of what we can do. One of the things I really love about playing with [them] is that they totally take my music and make it their own in the best way. When we’re playing together, there’s a sense of ensemble, there’s a sense of community, and then there’s a sense of personal identity. And that all comes out within the band in ways that everybody is supporting each other, but everybody’s voice gets heard. And that, to me, is the best music — when you’re playing and the band is somewhat leaderless.”
Amendola, who’s also part of the Nels Cline Singers and has collaborated with guitarist Charlie Hunter and recorded with Madeleine Peyroux, says that the more he plays and listens to music, the more ideas he gets and the more possibilities he sees.
He hears evidence of that in one of his more recent works, 2011’s “Fade to Orange,” an orchestral piece commissioned by the Oakland East Bay Symphony that featured Cline and bassist Trevor Dunn. Amendola wrote the piece for his wife, Ari. The 2015 EP Fade to Orange includes a version of the song performed with Magik*Magik Orchestra as well as remixes by Mocean Worker, John Dieterich and Drake Hardin, Yuka Honda and Beautiful Bells.
While working on “Fade to Orange,” Amendola says, he tried to wrap his head around orchestral writing by listening to György Ligeti and Béla Bartók as well as Peter Gabriel’s 2011 album New Blood. He recalls reading the record’s liner notes, in which Gabriel told arranger John Metcalfe that he leans toward the emotional.
“The idea of tapping into the emotional element of music is really a big thing for me,” Amendola says. “When I hear [Gabriel’s] music, I really hear the emotion, and there’s a certain intelligence in his music.... I’ve seen him live on every tour he’s done since 1992. Just seeing him live is kind of mind-blowing. He just kind of puts it out there.”
Amendola rearranged “Fade to Orange” for quartet and plans to perform the twenty-minute composition, along with other songs he’s written over the years, during the band’s sets at Dazzle. He’s played the club a number of times with the Nels Cline Singers, Charlie Hunter and others; he also did a gig there last November with local musicians including cornetist Ron Miles, bassist Greg Garrison, guitarist Dave Devine and trumpeter Shane Endsley — a group he plans to work with again.
Since marrying Ari, whose parents live in Englewood, Amendola has played out in Denver more often.
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“I love going to Denver,” he says. “I feel there’s a really interesting scene there. I really love playing Dazzle. It’s kind of, in a lot of ways, the best jazz club in America, in terms of being known as a ‘jazz’ club. It’s just really comfortable. It seems like everybody goes there; there’s no weird stigma of going there. It’s always a comfortable vibe.”
Amendola says that the one big difference between Denver and the Bay Area is that people here like to go out and hear music.
“If you live in Colorado generally, you like to go out,” he says, “and that, to me, translates to playing music there, because there are always really fantastic audiences, and they’re very warm and very appreciative. There are great audiences everywhere, but some places they’re just a little more special. They really appreciate it when you just put it out there, and they’re ready to receive it. There’s a really welcoming feeling [in Denver] when I’m there.”
The Scott Amendola Band
7 and 9 p.m., Friday, July 15, and Saturday, July 16, Dazzle, 930 Lincoln Street, $25.