Jazz Review | Jenny Scheinman: Merging Traditions From Time and
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Wed Dec 8 16:10:47 EST 2004
Jazz Review | Jenny Scheinman: Merging Traditions From Time and Place
December 8, 2004
By BEN RATLIFF
If you squint your eyes and use the areas of the brain
dedicated to memory and interpretation, you might think you
know Jenny Scheinman's songs. You might have sung them at
summer camp, heard one covered by Xavier Cugat or Johnny
Cash or Sonny Rollins, or remember your grandmother humming
a fragment of their melodies. They are like foundlings of
New World culture, made from various and slightly
hard-to-trace traditions of popular music.
But you won't know them; she wrote them. Ms. Scheinman, a
young violinist, grew up in rural Northern California with
amateur musician parents, then moved to San Francisco,
where she played postmodern mutations of old music, from
Gypsy jazz to klezmer. Five years ago she landed in New
York, finding a place among jazz and new-music players like
Marc Ribot, Myra Melford, Jim Black and John Zorn, all busy
connecting the very old in musical culture with the very
new, the casual with the ceremonial, the beautiful with the
disjunctive. Among them she is not a musician of disparate
interests; she is a musician with one big interest.
But her closest connection may be with the guitarist Bill
Frisell, who played in Ms. Scheinman's new sextet on Monday
night at Tonic. They are both drawn to a kind of brainy
comfort music in which traditions bleed together: Irish
reels, Protestant hymns, Jewish scales, national anthems,
blues, calypsos - all rendered in a homey, parlor style.
However unassuming she makes her music, it doesn't mask the
fact that Ms. Scheinman is a killer player. This was also
clear the previous week, in Ms. Scheinman's regular gig at
Barbès, in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where she brings in
different musicians each week. The set I saw was a batch of
Gershwin tunes, played in duets with the guitarist Steve
Cardenas. Playing "The Man I Love" and "Embraceable You,"
she let the tunes breathe, further ennobling their melodies
with slow tempos and elegant, simple improvisations. She
has the street musician's trick of getting attention with
the pure power of a single, perfect note.
Likewise, at Tonic on Monday, in many of the untitled
pieces, whether playing over a shuffle beat, a West Indian
rhythm or something slow and stately, she crouched a little
bit, curving into the tune, opening up places for long
notes with a rich, pulsating tone.
Her arrangements for the sextet - songs to be recorded soon
for her next album - included clarinet (Doug Wieselman) and
trumpet (Russ Johnson), which added soft, creamy textures,
but not much else. You can't lay the blame at Ms.
Scheinman's feet, but this music, taken to extremes, seems
prewrapped for between-segments slots on NPR; it is cleanly
articulated, almost edgeless, and comforting. It was only
when she, Mr. Frisell and her rhythm section played alone
that the music showed its traction and, occasionally, its
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