Jenny Scheinman: Mischief & Mayhem

Album review
Jenny Scheinman: Mischief & Mayhem

Jenny Scheinman

Mischief & Mayhem

Label: Jenny Scheinman Music
Media: CD
Genre: Jazz

We have guitarist Bill Frisell to thank for bringing violinist Jenny Scheinman to the attention of listeners who might have overlooked her various other collaborations, as well her half-dozen solo albums. Scheinman, a northern-California native with a long tenure in New York, is one of several jazz-influenced female musicians (a generation or so younger than such pathfinders as Marilyn Crispell, Satoko Fujii, and Myra Melford) who are redefining roles and penetrating stylistic boundaries. This loose cadre of peers includes saxophonist Jessica Lurie, guitarist Mary Halvorson, violinist Carla Kihlstedt, violist Jessica Pavone, cellist Theresa Wong, pianist Kris Davis, and trumpeter Sarah Wilson. In addition to her membership in many Frisell ensembles, including the 858 Quartet and the Intercontinentals, and her side- person duties with Norah Jones, John Zorn, Anaïs Mitchell, Bruce Cockburn, Madeline Peyroux, and others, Scheinman has written string arrangements for Lou Reed, Metallica, Lucinda Williams, Sean Lennon, and Bono. She’s also recorded a vocal album of original songs and folk- pop covers, and a CD in Zorn’s Radical Jewish Culture series for the Tzadik label.

Given that resume, and the similarly wide-ranging experiences of her Mayhem & Mischief comrades—guitarist Nels Cline (Wilco, Vinny Golia, Thurston Moore), bassist Todd Sickafoose (Ani DiFranco, Yoko Ono, Myra Melford), and drummer Jim Black (Dave Douglas, Chris Speed, Tim Berne)—it’s not surprising that the eight compositions on Scheinman’s seventh album erase the hyphens between genres commonly fused into hybrids for the convenience of categorization like jazz-rock, chamber- jazz, and world-jazz.

Take the first three pieces. On “A Ride With Polly Jean” (a musical dream of road-tripping with P.J. Harvey), while Scheinman puts a Gypsy tinge (she once played in the Hot Club of San Francisco) to a melody reminiscent of “Spanish Harlem,” Cline fires little space-warping pulsars through the gaps between throbbing bass and brushed drums. “Sand Dipper” opens with scratches and clatters worthy of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and continues through four minutes of abstraction in which the casual, multi-textured call-and- response violin and guitar lines impart the feel of an actual song. And “Blues for the Double Vee” puts a simple phrase through rising and falling modulations that the quartet gradually thickens until Scheinman and Cline take turns piercing the mass and pushing each other to more radical sonic extremes until they merge in a Cream-worthy climax.

Scheinman’s compositional touch- stones include modern classical strategies (building on 12-tone rows for “Devil’s Ink”), romantic jazz melodies (channeling Charlie Haden on “July Tenth in Three Four”), West African blues guitar patterns (paying homage to the late Malian master on the wryly titled “Ali Farka Touché”), and hard-core punk energy (whipping anarchic solos against crunching power- chords on “The Mite”). The extreme soundstage depth and almost psychedelic multidimensionality of the mix by Tucker Martine allow every instrumental detail and nuance to sparkle in its own space. (Black’s drums occasionally sound like boulders bouncing unevenly down a jag- ged rocky escarpment.) But because these musicians can’t abide being tethered to one idea for long, and because they’re so intimately in tune with one another, the music “sings,” wordlessly, in a unified transcendent voice, taking Neil Young’s famous line, “It’s all one song,” to glori- ous new heights. 

More Info

  • primary artist, Jenny Scheinman
  • CD

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