Fricke's Picks: Scheinman's Singing Strings

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On the radio the other night, during a live broadcast from New York's Village Vanguard, Jenny Scheinman's violin sounded more like a choir than a stringed instrument — a near-vocal ensemble of languid sighs, chatterlike runs and long, exultant squeals, with Scheinman skipping and sawing in sharp exchange with her quartet, including pianist Jason Moran. It was a delightful tension, one that Scheinman explores in greater tonal color on one of the two superb albums she put out this year: Crossing the Field (Koch), with a band that includes Moran and guitarist Bill Frisell and, on some tracks, a big, gentle army of strings. Scheinman is an acclaimed jazz violinist, and there is no missing the Stephane Grappelli and Stuff Smith in her agile swinging on "I Heart Eye Patch." But she plays and arranges in all languages — her credits include work with Lou Reed, Norah Jones, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and guitarist Nels Cline — and Crossing the Field is wide, inspired roaming: the welcoming sway of Scheinman's playing in "Born Into This"; the prickly riffing and soul strut of "Hard Sole Shoe"; the strings bending like waves of grain in "Ana Eco." That imaginary-prairie air is more pronounced on Jenny Scheinman (Koch), a singer-songwriter affair with a strong modern-country accent and rattling-tin-shack production. The covers outnumber her originals, but Scheinman's roots and tastes (antique country and R&B, Lucinda Williams and Tom Waits) show in both. Not surprisingly, Scheinman sings a lot like she plays violin, in high, clean notes and warm, graceful tremors. These are different albums, but she does everything on them in one voice.

[From Issue 1066 — November 27, 2008]

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