With the release of the singer/songwriter-driven Jenny Scheinman (Koch, 2008), violinist Jenny Scheinman entered new territory as a vocalist. Crossing the Field, released the same day in digital download-only form (a hard CD version will be released September 9, 2008, also by Koch), expands on the forward motion of 12 Songs (Cryptogramophone, 2005) with an even larger ensemble and a unified concept. A sweeping, 13-piece suitewith the inclusion of a string orchestrait's her most ambitious project to date, and demonstrates a logical evolution of an artist for whom there are few, if any, musical boundaries.
With co-soloists including longtime collaborators Bill Frisell (guitar), Ron Miles (cornet) and Doug Wieselman (clarinets), Scheinman also recruits pianist Jason Moran for the session. A player whose own discography is a matter of taste and controversy, the encyclopedic knowledge that informs Moran's distinctly modernistic bent has resulted in some outstanding guest work this year, most notably as the newest member of woodwind multi-instrumentalist Charles Lloyd's quartet on the outstanding Rabo de Nube (ECM, 2008). Here he's no less impressive, his opening solo on the backbeat-driven "Hard Sole Shoe" an early album highlight of idiosyncratic, blues-drenched virtuosity that moves in and out of its simple, two-chord form with élan and near-perfect intuition.
Scheinman is no less impressive, building her solo on the fast-paced "I Heart Eye Patch" with equal imagination and focus, leading into a solo from Frisell that's the musical equivalent of knitting a complex pattern, his melody effortlessly weaving its way through the changes. The brief "That's Delight" is a trio for Scheinman, Moran and drummer Kenny Wollesen that, with its diminutive instrumentation, shines a spotlight on all three; Moran's solo is a brief lesson in jazz history, Scheinman's robust tone lends her concise solo even greater depth, and Wollesen's empathic support makes him an equal partner.
Though there's plenty of solo space to be found, Crossing the Field's greatest strength is in the writing, an envelope-pushing marriage of Aaron Copland-esque American classicism (the moving "Ana Eco" and orchestra feature "Ripples in the Aquifer") and jazz tradition (Duke Ellington's "Awful Sad," the only non-original) with contemporary song form (the aptly titled "Processional"), quirky comic relief ("Three Bits and a Horse," a quartet feature for Wollesen, Frisell, Moran and Miles) and even a shade of Afrobeat ("Song for Sidiki").
Throughout, Scheinman's penchant for strong melody and resonance is consistently beautiful without ever being saccharine. "Old Brooklyn" revolves around a simple pulse, driven by bassist Tim Luntzel and Wieselman's folkloric melody. Supported by the ever-responsive Frisell, the lead is passed to Miles, with Wieselman re-entering for an elegantly harmonized recapitulation of the theme that brings the disc to a tender close.
Considering that Scheinman's been on the scene for just under a decade, Crossing the Field is all the more impressive; her almost exponential growth making where she'll go next hard to predict. With music as compelling as this, there's little doubt that, whatever path she does take, it'll be well worth going along for the ride.
Born Into This; I Heart Eye Patch; That's Delight; Ana Eco; Hard Sole Shoe; Einsamaller; Awful Sad; Processional; The Careeners; Three Bits and a Horse; Song for Sidiki; Ripples in the Aquifer; Old Brooklyn.
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