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Published: 2008/05/23
by Pat Buzby

Crossing the Field – Jenny Scheinman

Crossing the Field – Jenny Scheinman
Jenny Scheinman – Jenny Scheinman

There has been a fair amount of talk about jazz/rock, jazz/funk and acid jazz, but its odd that no one has come up with this one: rural jazz. Although most jazz is the sound of New York, influences from flyover country have been detectable at crucial moments in the music. Shenandoah-born bassist Charlie Haden was crucial to Ornette Colemans free jazz, and Joe Zawinuls memories of being a shepherd boy in Austria inspired the title track of what may have been the first major fusion album. And its too rarely noted that of the few people with a jazz background whove managed to sell CDs in recent years, several (Pat Metheny and Norah Jones, to name two) have more than a little country in their music.

Jenny Scheinman contributed violin to Joness breakthrough CD, and has often accompanied another leader in rural jazz, Bill Frisell, who returns the favor on Crossing The Field. Her previous solo outing, 12 Songs, established her as a rare modern jazz artist whose talents as a melodist keep pace with her improvising abilities. Now come two simultaneous and quite different CDs, an explosion of the talent hinted at on those previous efforts.

Scheinmans self-titled disc features her singing on each track. Her plain but attractive voice suits this low-key, varied set of songs, with originals mixed with covers from the likes of Lucinda Williams and Tom Waits. Much of it evokes women staring out the window into the wide open spaces, looking for physically or emotionally absent husbands or missing relatives, while the happier cuts include odes to Twilight Time and a boy from Johnsburg, Illinois. If you could meld Sheryl Crows voice with Waitss brain, a CD like this might be the result.

The instrumental Crossing The Field takes the same influences into different musical environments. On I Heart Eye Patch and The Careeners, a mass of strings pirouette in unison over an acoustic rhythm sections charmingly stodgy swing, evoking a holiday theatre show in Waiting For Guffman land. (No, thats not an insult.) Elsewhere, there are miniatures along the lines of Zawinuls more poignant work, while Hard Sole Shoe introduces some Booker T grit into the proceedings. The one cover here is Duke Ellingtons Awful Sad like Duke, Scheinman offers frequent improvisation, but its the melodies that stay with you.

With nearly two hours of music, Scheinman gives listeners a lot to grasp. Its tempting to fantasize about the band or soundtrack offer that will make the most of her talents. For now, though, take these two discs for what they are a quietly dazzling display.

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