Tzadik's Oracle series, dedicated to creative female artists, is now in its ninth reincarnation, after memorable releases by Susie Ibarra and Yuka Honda, among others. Shalagaster draws its strength from the warm, melodic sound of Jenny Scheinman's violin, funneled into a series of relatively low-key original compositions. Varied international flavor comes through in the form of the undercurrents of "Tango For Luna," the kicking wedding dance of "Wiseacre," and the almost military "See Through."
Scheinman belongs to the relatively sparse community of jazz violinists, and she distinguishes herself here with a strong feel for heartland harmonies and a tone that varies from sinuous to full-bodied, though most of the time it lies at the latter extreme. Her quintet retains bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Kenny Wollesen from her previous release, The Rabbi's Lover, augmented with the sparse but welcome piano (plus harmonium) of Myra Melford and trumpet of Russ Johnson (best enjoyed with a mute).
The compositions (all but one by Scheinman) are mostly dark, minor-key and slow-paced. The sparse, overtone-rich tune "The Lucky Hum" turns the volume down about four notches, returning regularly to a theme that resembles the titular musical phrase from "A Love Supreme." Kenny Wollesen is the only other prominent voice on this piece (other than a shadowy human voice), and his brush and cymbal work complement the tune's transition from stark loneliness to bluesy contemplation.
Scheinman has collaborated with Bill Frisell, and the melody of her "New View of the Horse" sounds exactly like the his "Tales from the Far Side" ( Quartet, Nonesuch, 1996) in just about every respect (including instrumentation). I don't want to point any fingers here, but I'd say that's not a good move. Otherwise, the set is uniformly solid, persistently inviting, and just mysterious enough to offer intrigue without becoming perplexing.
Track Listing: Into the Clearing, American Dipper, Tango for Luna, Milk Bottle, The Lucky Hum, Wiseacre, New View of the Horse, American Dipper, Nigun, Zeynebim, See Through
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