The title of violinist Jenny Scheinman's sixth album as leader tells much of, but not the whole story. Playful and daring, with memorable melodies rubbing shoulders with arresting improvisations, there's an irresistible freshness and vigor about the music. However, there are more layers to peel away, and great subtlety and lyricism reveal themselves upon each subsequent listen. Scheinman's solo career has been somewhat overshadowed by her decade-long collaborations with guitarist Bill Frisell
and her busy schedule as a side-musician, yet her solo recordings highlight her undoubted talents as a songwriter and, as demonstrated on Jenny Scheinman
(KOCH Records, 2008), a singer to boot. Reverting here to instrumental territory, Mischief and Mayhem
states the case for being Scheinman's most striking work to date.
The loping rhythm of "A Ride With Polly Jean" seduces from the get go, and Jim Black
's perfectly placed trio of bass drum hits early on give the number its liftoff. Scheinman's uncluttered, bewitching playing raises goose bumps, and she is lent telling support by bassist Todd Sickafoose
's mantra-like double-bass ostinato and guitarist Nels Cline
's deftness on six strings, and atmospheric, hazy loops. It's a stunning opener and would serve well as a soundtrack for a spaghetti mid-western, conjuring big, open spaces and epic adventure.
Scheinman explores African flavors on "Sand Dipper" and "Ali Farka Touché." "Sand Dipper" successfully juxtaposes a stripped down earthinesswith lilting violin center-stagewith a brooding restlessness. On "Ali Farka Touché," Cline and Scheinman combine in rootsy homage to Ali Farka Torre, evoking perfectly the spirit of the late Malian singer/guitarist. Scheinman is as much at home exploring African sounds as she is playing jazz or folksy fiddle tunes, as witnessed on "Baba Drame," from Frisell's The Intercontinentals
(Nonesuch, 2003) and Scheinman's own "Song for Sidiki" from Crossing the Field
(KOCH Records, 2008); clearly a whole album of African-inspired music wouldn't go amiss.
There's some serious mischief about "Blues For Double Vee," a lovingly irreverent tribute to the Village Vanguard; surf-punk drums spur some gritty country-rock from Cline and a paint-stripper of a solo from Scheinman, which contains the energetic swing and rough edges of violinist Stuff Smith
. A punkish energy runs through "The Mite," a heady workout featuring inspired playing from Cline and Scheinman at the epicenter of intense group interplay.
Scheinman explores more meditative terrain on three tracks, which though spaced apart, form a sort of triptych. The dream-like lament of "Devil's Ink" lulls before delivering a sting in the tail; "The Audit" contains a less dark lyricism, and "July Tenth in Three Four"featuring a poignant solo from Sickafoosedawns like a spring morning. These tracks should appeal to fans of Californian experimenters I Heart Lung.
Scheinman has led this band for five years, but its debut release has been well worth the wait. Song form and improvisation go hand-in-hand, blurring the lines between jazz, folk, African roots, rock and experimental soundscapes. Scheinman is a compelling story teller; is it any wonder Frisell calls upon her services time and time again?