Thursday, June 19, 2008

Woah, Jenny

There seems to be an odd (yet pretty awesome) trend in the jazz world lately in which artists release two brilliant, completely different albums at the same time (Chris Potter did it with "Follow the Red Line" and "Song for Anyone" last year, and Vijay Iyer recently did it with his own "Tragicomic" and Fieldwork's "Door"). Violinist Jenny Scheinman has managed to do the same thing, releasing two seemingly completely different albums, "Crossing the Field" and "Jenny Scheinman," at the same time. To add to the confusion, "Jenny Scheinman" is the first album that she has released as a vocalist, and is by no means a jazz album but a low-key, gorgeous, country-folk-rock extravaganza.

"Jenny Scheinman" is one of those albums that begs to be forgotten, and it probably will be. Jazz publications will give it good-but-not-great reviews (4 stars out of 5, perhaps 3 1/2), while more pop-oriented magazines won't even review it (an alt country-folk album? By a jazz violinist? Yeah, right.). This is really a shame, because it's one of the prettiest albums I've heard all year; like the brilliant "Bill Frisell and Petra Haden" from a few years ago the music is so unlike anything else out there, and so low-key, that it will probably just wind up sitting on shelves in the jazz sections of record and book stores. Scheinman seems to know this, as all of the best songs on the album have a weary sort of quality to them; "I Was Young When I Left Home," a folk tune which opens the album and which is given an incredibly spare arrangement here, shines in a scrappy, back-porch sort of way. "Shame Shame Shame" rocks out, with Scheinman mustering up all of her ability to make it sound as bad-ass as possible. Tony Scherr is invaluable as a guitarist on this album; his slide work on every track but "Rebecca's Song" (which features Bill Frisell) adds bluesy gravity to the proceedings. Highly Recommended.

"Crossing the Field," at least on the surface, is incomparable to "Jenny Scheinman;" there are no vocals, and the spare proceedings of "Jenny Scheinman" are gone as Scheinman is accompanied by a jazz quintet (which features pianist Jason Moran, guitarist Bill Frisell in a rare sideman post, Tony Scherr, who plays bass here as opposed to guitar and drummer Kenny Wollesen) and, on a few tracks, an entire string orchestra (conducted by violist Eyvind Kang). "Crossing the Field" is something of a companion piece to Bill Frisell's "History, Mystery," as so many of the same musicians appear on both albums, but the aesthetic is quite different. Scheinman's version of so-called "rural jazz" (I love that term, I even tagged it to the end of my "History, Mystery" review) is much less pastoral than Frisell's, and "Crossing the Field" sounds a lot like Aaron Copland as filtered through Django Reinhardt's quartet, with random modernist flourishes. Frisell plays a characteristically brilliant guitar solo on "I Heart Eye Patch," an up-tempo country-jazz work-out, while Jason Moran gets a chance to stretch out on "Awful Sad," a swing throw-back. Scheinman herself solos on just about everything, but there is no point in going into specifics because every solo manages to be a highlight. Also highly recommended.

The odd thing about these two albums is that, in spite of the fact that on paper (or on online musings) they seem completely different, they compliment each other. Both albums are free to listen to on Scheinman's website, and I would suggest that if you are so inclined you listen to them back-to-back. There's something about the scrappy country-rock of "Jenny Scheinman" that makes the orchestral (yet still scrappy) jazz of "Crossing the Field" even more interesting; whether singing or playing violin, she manages to sound like Jenny Scheinman.

Next time I'll have a review of Daniel Zamir's "I Believe," although I will probably still be spending my time listening to "Esperanza" over and over again, and randomly diluting it with Jenny Scheinman's "I Was Young When I Left Home." I can't help it; they're that good.

1 comment:

FutorianARTS said...

This is Melanie Futorian (Don Alias') companion.
Our mutual friend Judith Leire recommended your site which is terrific,
Best of luck!