Sam Amidon – The Following Mountain

Album Review | Nonesuch | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 4/5

There’s nothing quite straightforward when it comes to Sam Amidon; there always seems to be a surprise around each corner. Highly experimental at the best of times, nothing really could have prepared our ears for the closing track on this Sam’s sixth album The Following Mountain, where Sam’s love of free jazz becomes a little more than apparent, almost twelve minutes of it to be precise. It’s to this album what “Hair Pie: Bake 1” was to Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica almost fifty years ago; self expression on a grand scale, aided and abetted by drummer Milford Graves, who drives the improvisational piece along. Elsewhere we see the more familiar Appalachia, albeit from Amidon’s own pen for the first time, with Sam’s dry vocal permeating “Fortune”, “Juma Mountain” and “Another Story Told”, in which Amidon’s Viv Stanshall-like “fiddle” announcement midway through would probably have been left out in the hands of any other musician. Not Sam Amidon though, who in this one instance reminds us of who we are listening to. As with all Sam Amidon’s albums, it’s difficult to listen through just the once and a repeat play is an essential requirement. Helping out are Leo Abrahams (Brian Eno, Regina Spektor) handling production, multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily, drummer Milford Graves, guest percussionist Juma Sultan (who worked with Hendrix, notably during his Woodstock set) and saxophonist Sam Gendel, who gets a name check in the title of track five and plays a blinder solo throughout. If this is the way Amidon’s music is heading, gimme more.