How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
12 Songs is an album of imagination above all else. Like her frequent employer Bill Frisell (whom she employs here), Jenny Scheinman composes vignettes that frame a world for listeners to find comfort, not just through its distant familiarity, but with enough imaginative angularity to convert the most common hue of blue into a feathering peacock's rainbow of one simple color. And this world is truly more imaginative and vivacious than most jazz being produced todaywhether it is concerned with memorable melodies or smoldering solos.
Scheinman has brought together a unique combination of instruments and musicians to accomplish these ends. Aside from Frisell's often unique sense of drama and humor with his variously effected guitar, she has also enlisted clarinetist Doug Wieselman, the always impressive trumpeter Ron Miles, piano and accordionist Rachelle Garniez, bassist Tim Luntzel, and drummer Dan Rieser. Like an interactive multidimensional puzzle, all the musicians work in and around each other, often forming strange relationships as they shift through this aurally visual world with less emphasis on solos and more concern for different emotional and visceral spaces.
And even when instruments inevitably find themselves in a solo spotlight, they always serve the whole, such as when Miles' cornet rises above the jaunty "Moe Hawk, backed by Frisell plucking along with a march-like beat. While subdued sound-wise, Miles floats a singular voice, matched by Frisell's own impressive solo later on, finding him in the same vicinity as Gone, Just Like A Train, where the country feel isn't as pronounced as his angular melodic stylizations, but is still informed by it.
Scheiman herself, often in the fore but never dominating, takes an extended trip on the pensive "Antenna, displaying her gift for melody and bravado, never rising above her pasture, but defining the landscape all along. Throughout the album, she has the ability to play with fire even in the quietest of moments.
All this aside, 12 Songs is an album of times and places marked through a lens of sound. And as peculiar as some song titles may be, the music is never outlandish nor ordinary, occupying that quirky space in between. From the languid stroll of the opening "The Frog Threw His Head Back and Laughed to the dancing of the appropriately titled "Little Calypso, each song has its own means and feel because each receives a different coloring by the musicians and instruments involved.
In the end, Scheinman's 12 Songs is as simple a title as possible. And like most great songs, these pieces accomplish what they set out to do: communicate a feeling and message to the listener on the most basic of levels. While it's not for everyone, like any music, listeners familiar with any of the players involved in this project should have an idea of what to expect. As for the uninitiated, prepare yourself for music that will transport you to a ridiculous storybook of beautiful sound.
Track Listing: The Frog Threw His Head Back and Laughed; Song of the Open Road; Moe Hawk; Sleeping in the Aquifer; The Buoy Song; She Couldn't Believe It Was True; Suza; Little Calypso; Satelite; Antenna; Albert; June 21.
Personnel: Jenny Scheinman: violin; Ron Miles: cornet; Doug Weselman: clarinets; Bill Frisell: guitar; Rachelle Garniez: accordion, piano, claviola; Tim Luntzel: bass; Don Reiser: drums.