February 19, 2003

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Local Grooves

Scott Amendola Band
Cry (Cryptogramophone)
Carla Kihlstedt
2 Foot Yard (Tzadik)

Although their new recordings are as dissimilar in sound as a Miles Davis electric group and a Hungarian folk ensemble, the Bay Area's Scott Amendola and Carla Kihlstedt are inextricably joined at the musical soul by compulsive avant-whatever eclecticism. On Cry, diversified drummer Amendola extends the composing chops he unveiled on his band's 2000 eponymous debut, offering six widely varied originals as well as a sweet rendition of the 1905 tune "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" (made famous by Ethel Waters) and an absolutely scorching nine-minute version of Bob Dylan's "Masters of War," featuring Carla Bozulich spewing vocal battery acid on the Bush-Rumsfeld-Powell cabal. The only change in personnel between recordings brings West Coast guitar icon Nels Cline into Amendola's band with violinist Jenny Scheinman, saxophonist Eric Crystal, and acoustic bassist Todd Sickafoose. The result is an even more potent alchemy that works magic in and between the quietest folk-tinged textures and the noisiest rhythm 'n' raunch, all beyond the borders that conventionally define jazz rock.

Kihlstedt's chameleon qualities, evident in Tin Hat Trio, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, and Charming Hostess, assume pinpoint focus on her solo debut's 20 pithy pieces, including F.W. McGee's "50 Miles" ("of elbow room") and a musically recast Kenneth Patchen poem. While violin and viola remain her main axes, Kihlstedt vocalizes on all but four tracks and also plays zither, accordion, harmonica, and melodica, with cellist Marika Hughes and drummer-percussionist Shahzad Ismaily completing the acoustic trio. An intense singer, brilliant instrumentalist, and canny arranger, Kihlstedt creates compelling folk-pop chamber music as sharply drawn as it is surreal. The Scott Amendola Band and Carla Kihlstedt's 2 Foot Yard play Tues/25, 8 p.m., Great American Music Hall, S.F. (415) 885-0750. (Derk Richardson)

Red Thread
After the Last (Badman)

Oblique is as oblique does. Doesn't that sound satisfyingly vague and therefore maybe even sorta cool? It's a trick we can all play: look at something sideways, squinting, and it's more mysterious, glamorous, better. Your date looks foxier in the dark, wreathed in cigarette smoke. The city seems nicer in the gloom, enveloped in a fog. You'd think the same would go for music, and it's possible fans of all things gauzy, slow, and haze-shrouded will love the Red Thread's After the Last. Masterminded by ex-Half Film leader Jason Lakis and propelled by members of the Inspectors, the Red Thread take the cowboy/Tex-Mex border music of Calexico and the urbane "little night music" of Spain and smudge them into an attractive, somewhat frustrating blur, as they do on the opening track, "Spread Thin." Too bad Lakis's vocals sound about as up front and pointed as Alan Parsons's. The band pick up momentum with "All In" and an unrecognizable cover of the Bad Brains' "Sailin' On," which finds Lakis singing, "Too many days with nothing to say," never quite losing his composure and none too broken up about it. You hope the Red Thread don't take those words to heart and make a sharp statement next time around. The Red Thread play a CD-release party Tues/25, Cafe du Nord, S.F. (415) 861-5016. (Kimberly Chun)