How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
If you're one of the, what, couple of million or so music purchasers in possession of Norah Jones' Come Away With Me, you've heard Jenny Scheinman, who lent her big violin sound to that surprising hit—one of many astute backing musician choices made for the singer's debut recording.
With Shalagaster, Scheinman has put together an eclectic sound with a quintet that employs harmonium (or piano) and trumpet with the leader's violin, in front of bass/drums rhythm. The set is more about Scheinman's compositions and the group's rich and unusual harmonics than individual virtuosities—though satisfying moments of that do shine through with all three front line players. The music seems possessed of a sense of implacable reverence—on "Lucky Hum" and "Into the Clearing." "Zeynabim" has a mystical feel, centuries old.
Russ Johnson's trumpet, muted and open horn, mostly serves a textural role behind Myra Melford's sweet harmonium work and Scheinman's boldly assured tartness of tone. The unusual mix of the front line makes for an engaging layering that is a bit odd sounding to this ear, and is all the more engaging for just that reason. Scheinman's violin tone has a substantialness to it, as though the wood of the instrument is endowed with a more than normal resonance, that lessens for a thinner, more whimsical airiness on the klezmer-ish "Wiseacre."
Compelling sounds that leave an ineffable feeling of mystic Americana, with hints of Brazilian ("American Dipper") and raga ("Nigun") spirituality.