Jazz album review: Jenny Scheinman’s ‘Mischief & Mayhem’


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Jenny Scheinman, ‘Mischief & Mayhem’ (Jenny Scheinman)

Another of those albums that sounds a little scarier in name than reality, this project led by New York-based violinist Jenny Scheinman earns its two-pronged label with occasional dips into unstructured noise and a rock-like drive.


But the group is just as marked by a thoughtful sense of atmosphere and lush, inviting composition, which admittedly looks much less cool on a CD cover.

Also featuring two fellow artists with West Coast roots in bassist Todd Sickafoose and Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, Scheinman’s take on rustic violin jazz feels informed by elements of country and folk but doesn’t stay in one place long. “A Ride With Polly Jean” -- inspired by an imagined California road trip with indie songstress PJ Harvey -- carries a light, contemplative vibe atop Scheinman’s gliding violin and an airy pulse from drummer Jim Black.

Though Cline’s unique guitar alchemy has a reputation for scraping the edge of the universe, here he stays back with a well-mannered grace, releasing a few electronic squiggles that sound like a dial-up modem arguing with a scrambled radio transmission.

“Devil’s Ink” seamlessly transitions from Scheinman’s spookily atmospheric beginnings into a twisted funk groove carried by Black and Sickafoose, and “Ali Farka Touché,” a loping, joyful tribute to the late Malian guitarist, leads with Cline’s bent twang before the song gathers around Scheinman’s swerving melody.

Clanging, metallic tones from Cline in the Eastern-tilted ‘Sand Dipper’ and the chugging edge of “The Mite’ bear out the record’s implied promise of playful anarchy, but those listening beyond the surface will hear an album that goes well beyond words.



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-- Chris Barton