Jenny Scheinman: Mischief & Mayhem (2012)
Scheinman has an innate ability to harness both the spirit and power of the avant-garde while, at the same time, engaging the harmonically familiar riffs of rock, folk, world, or classical modes. Aided by an expert cast of musical polymaths in guitarist Nels Cline, bassist Todd Sickafoose and drummer Jim Black, Scheinman wastes not a note in establishing the mood of musical journey.
Kicking off with a middle-eastern infused cadence over a tightly pulsing rhythm, the album opening "A Ride With Polly Jean" expands and deconstructs melodically several times as it patiently blends layers of sounds, nimbly maintaining interest throughout. Again, on "Blues For The Double Vee," the band creates a sense of anticipation by building off a repeating riff before exploring the same motif from numerous musical angles, creating a willing tension of expectation.
On the more experimental tracks, such as "Devil's Ink," chunks of sounds, half themes, and rhythmic pulses float in and out, as if calling out to Scheinman's sharp violin gestures before quickly darting off. It is not until six minutes into this nearly eight-minute song before a cohesive melodic statement emerges and yet, when it does (in a flurry of notes reminiscent of Robert Fripp's 1980s League of Gentlemen), the earlier disjointed themes coalesce, surprising the ear.
And it is this harmonic surprise that's at the heart of Mischief & Mayham's mesmerizing effect. Track after track moves in twists and turns that seem to come out of nowhere yet make a perfect auditory sense by the resolution. "The Mite," for example, moves back and forth from chugging rocker to sections of frenzied melodic ripostes before Scheinman and Cline eventually wind up together in a scratchy call-and-response of high end frequencies.
On "Ali Farka Touche" (an homage to the renowned Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure), Cline performs a splendid interpretation of Toure's sound and phrasing. Scheinman's violin, which had been part of the funky rhythm vibe, then charges off into a solo of short chops followed by lush plaintive lines before the song itself gets engulfed in the processed string noise that perfectly mimics a Toure affect.
Scheinman's violin is capable of great power, ingenuity, and wit on its own, but coupled with Sickafoose's agile bass and Black's multidimensional drumming, as well as Cline's astounding talent for making electronic circuits plugged into his guitar produce organic musical expressions, and the totality equals a rare musical moment. A moment of startling brilliance in all its vibrant mischievous mayhem.
Track Listing: A Ride With Polly Jean; Sand Dipper; Blues For The Double Vee; Devil's Ink; The Audit; Ali Farka Touche; July Tenth In Three Four; The Mite.
Personnel: Jenny Scheinman: violin; Nels Cline: guitars; Todd Sickafoose: bass; Jim Black: drums.
Record Label: Self Produced
Style: Fringes of Jazz