8/10 You may or may not have heard of Jenny Scheinman, but you’ve almost certainly heard her violin on albums by Norah Jones, Madeleine Peyroux, Lucinda Williams and jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, to name but a few of the many musicians she’s worked with since travelling from west coast USA to New York in 1999. Add to this arrangements for such luminaries as Bono, Sean Lennon and Jesse Cutler and it becomes clear that Ms Scheinman is a prolific and off-the-scale-talented musician. The only blot on the landscape is her involvement with the debacle that was Lou Reed and Metallica’s Lulu, which she insists she was just “trying to make…sound better”. Of all these collaborators Bill Frisell has arguably been the most significant, and a listen to any of Scheinman’s previous five studio albums will testify to the pair’s musical likeness.
Mischief & Mayhem is Scheinman’s first album release since 2008′s double-header, Crossing The Field and Jenny Scheinman (the latter being her vocal debut, after encouragement from Norah Jones). The current release differs from previous efforts in that there is more fire in the compositions. This is due, in no small part, to the sidemen that Scheinman has chosen to work with. Guitarist Nels Cline (Wilco) and bassist Todd Sickafoose are fellow Californians and long-time Scheinman collaborators. But it was the introduction of Jim Black, who has made a name for himself in downtown New York as an idiosyncratic drummer (not unlike The Dirty Three’s Jim White), that provided the fresh spark for the project and inspired the title Mischief & Mayhem: Cline being the former and Black the latter.
Album opener ‘A Ride With Polly Jean’ imagines a drive down the Californian coastline with PJ Harvey and bears all the hallmarks of a typical Scheinman piece: a persistent rock rhythm, strong on the backbeat, with Scheinman’s violin providing a melody line of almost vocal quality. Second track, ‘Sand Dipper’, is the antithesis of this, providing a fractured, kaleidoscopic rhythm at odds with and yet perfectly complementing Scheinman’s tuneful violin before the whole eventually descends into a cacophony of broken chords and sharp-edged percussion. And these two songs set the scene for the rest of the album, a mixture of rock-infused instrumentals and avant-jazz expressions.
The inspiration for recording the eight tracks presented here came from the band’s residency at the Village Vanguard, one of Greenwich Village’s most respected jazz clubs. Over a six-day, twelve-set appointment at the club in 2010, for which Scheinman wrote all-new material, the band gelled so well that she impulsively scheduled a two-day recording session immediately following the dates. The Village Vanguard dates are duly recognised by the tune ‘Blues For The Double Vee’, a funky number with a framework of simple modulating intervals in the style of jazz greats Thelonious Monk and Paul Motian. Another Scheinman influence and collaborator, Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, is recognised on the track ‘Ali Farka Touché’, where Cline mimics Touré’s guitar phrasing and style to great effect. The album is mischievous yes, but any mayhem is tightly controlled and, in the final analysis, Mischief & Mayhem benefits as a result.
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