SF Weekly Music Awards 2002

A galaxy-spanning journey through space and sound!

Rova Saxophone Quartet

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Rova Saxophone Quartet, one of the Bay Area's most innovative ensembles. Founded in 1977 by Jon Raskin, Larry Ochs, Andrew Voigt, and Steve Adams, the group was one of only a handful of saxophone ensembles, and it brought to the field not only a wealth of compositional and improvisational talent, but also a determination to increase the available repertoire for such units. (Bruce Ackley replaced Voigt in 1988, but the group's name, an acronym for the names of its founders, remained the same.) Hardly a purely jazz project, Rova combines composition, structured improv, game-based play, and flights of free music. While much of the band's music is composed by its own members, the foursome has commissioned work from artists like Terry Riley, Alvin Curran, Pauline Oliveros, Anthony Braxton, Kronos Quartet, and Fred Frith, greatly expanding the body of music available for saxophone quartets. Rova's impact ranges far beyond the stack of scores and discs it's recorded: The ensemble toured the U.S.S.R. and Romania in 1983, long before the Iron Curtain fell, resulting in the 1984 documentary Saxophone Diplomacy. Rova's live appearances include more than 30 European tours, stints alongside the likes of Anthony Braxton, and a 30th-anniversary performance of John Coltrane's Ascension album at the Great American Music Hall in 1995. The avant-garde poet Clark Coolidge even "remixed" Rova with The Rova Improvisations, a 1994 book based on the group's music. Immortalized in aluminum, notation, and verse, Rova's impact on contemporary music is irrefutable.

Scott Amendola Band

It's appropriate that Scott Amendola covers Nick Drake's "One of These Things First" on his band's eponymous debut album, released in 1998. Like the narrator of that song, who wistfully sings that he "Could've been a signpost, could've been a clock," Amendola could've been just about any kind of percussionist. In some respects, he already has been: The 33-year-old New Jersey native anchored a Grammy-nominated jazz album (1997's If Four Was One) with the now-defunct T.J. Kirk, a band that included Charlie Hunter, Will Bernard, and John Schott; from 1993 to 1998, he was a steady member of the Charlie Hunter Quartet, appearing on the groove-funk combo's most popular major-label LPs. But Amendola's also proved himself as an experimental, improv-oriented drummer, playing most recently with L.A. rising-star guitarist Nels Cline in several ensembles, including the free-form noise group L. Stinkbug and the bluesy, thrash-oriented Nels Cline Singers. In addition to these ongoing projects, you might catch Amendola serving up beats for his straight-jazz trio or for S.F. singer/songwriter Noe Venable. Then there's Amendola's lifelong fascination for straight-ahead, blood-and-guts rock 'n' roll, which manifests itself in everything from his song selection to his hyperkinetic style to his penchant for turning the most abstract moment into a butt-churning, hip-swaying groove. In fact, it's Amendola's unusual ear for melody that really sets him apart from most Bay Area drummers, and makes his insistence on playing his own music with his own band more than just a percussionist's pipe dream. With another album set for release this winter on the Cryptogramophone label, Amendola will no doubt prove that he doesn't have to choose to be "one of these things" -- he can be all of them.

Lifestyle Music

eXtreme Elvis

Last year at the SF Weekly Music Awards, eXtreme Elvis lost twice. Not only did his own band miss out on the Lifestyle award, but Pink & Brown -- of which he was pretending to be one half -- went down in the Punk category. If anyone deserved two awards (and two entrees and two desserts and two bottles of wine), it was Elvis, who's literally one of the biggest performers in the city. But if he was nonplussed, he certainly didn't show it -- which is lucky for all bystanders. By now, Big E is well known for throwing his weight around, along with his urine and feces, a few chickens, any stray beer bottles (his or yours), and loads of nitrous oxide containers. He has pissed on people for smoking cigarettes and pissed off folks by whizzing on pool tables; he's ordered audiences to give him massages and joints and golden showers. At a recent show in Los Angeles, after eE tried to grab a lady's beer, the woman got so incensed that she attempted to ram her bottle up his ass. eXtreme Elvis causes extreme reactions. After all, it isn't every day that you have a 250-pound, nude, sweaty man with big sideburns and a very small penis try to sing "Suspicious Minds" while giving you a bear hug from behind. But there's more to Mr. Pelvis than meets the eye, ear, and nose. Sure, he's outrageous, but he's also a masterful performer, a wise social critic, and a hell of a singer. (If, however, he offers you eggnog, check to make sure he hasn't urinated in it.) His band is full of talented musicians who make their "livings" in experimental noise-rock bands, and who follow his every whim with an impressive joie de vivre. If he tells them to get naked, they strip; if he suggests they play Gang of Four's "Anthrax," they blast into it. As eXtreme Elvis writes on his Web site, www.extreme-elvis.com, "Every generation gets the Elvis it deserves."

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