Jenny Scheinman: Unfurling One's Wings

By: Dennis Cook

Jenny Scheinman by Michael Wilson
It's hard not to fall in love with Jenny Scheinman. The violinist's raw talent, boundless creativity and ability to dovetail with a startling range of musicians and styles marks her as a singular talent. But there's an X-factor to Scheinman's appeal, a wondrous undercurrent that reminds one why music matters, why it stirs us to tears and laughter, why we hold it close to our chest and let it whisper in the long shadows of our lives. Scheinman taps into all the bright and heavy things of this world and channels them through her instrument and her thoughtful, adventurous compositions. While perhaps not a household name to Joe Six-Pack, Scheinman is a go-to player for the likes of Bill Frisell, Lucinda Williams, Norah Jones, Danny Barnes, Madeleine Peyroux, John Zorn and she's currently on tour with country great Rodney Crowell in a special acoustic trio with Will Kimbrough (dates here).

Her status in the music industry would be secured purely as a master session musician and side person but her intellect and terrifically searching nature have increasingly found her carving out her own space in the great canon. In 2008, she's released two amazing albums, the instrumental Crossing The Field (currently available digitally and out on CD on October 14 through Koch Records), and her debut as a vocalist, Jenny Scheinman, where she mingles her own tunes with Jimmy Reed, Tom Waits, Mississippi John Hurt and a stunning read of Lucinda Williams' "King of Hearts." What's revealed in the vast spaces covered by this pair of albums is the blossoming of one of the great musicians of our times. While a loaded thing to say about any player, Scheinman reaffirms that notion again and again, and her legions of top flight musician fans only grows year after year.

"It takes quite a lot of discipline to limit the possible. I'd have to work a lot harder not to have that scope. I'm always amazed at how musicians are able to limit themselves. This is just my whole life out on two records, but it wasn't intentional," says Scheinman. "I didn't realize they'd both be done at the same time but when I found out I was thrilled. It poses the questions, 'What is an American musician? What are musicians now after growing up in an era when almost anything was available to listen to?' This is more and more the case with the Internet. There's been so many influences in my ear, so all this stuff just comes out."

Jenny Scheinman by Wendy Andringa
"You can't expect everybody to like everything, and nobody's wrong for not liking or liking something; it's just a matter of taste. I just try to follow my ear, and it led me to these two records. There's a whole group of people that don't even like vocals, and the reverse, too. I sometimes play a vocal show and the jazz Nazis come and ask, 'When are you going to play your instrumental music again?' And definitely the reverse when I'm playing a jazz show! People are longing for the clarity and impact of a song with words," continues Scheinman. "So, it's been a fun social experiment to do both in the same town, often for the same audience. I'm really impressed and heartened by how people like both. I have no expectations that many people will like both. Either it's a sign that the music is connected and related in a deeper way than by category and bin and genre, or it's just a sign that peoples' ears are open, and if delivered honestly people respond to music."

Both albums are very welcoming, and like the artist behind them, they aren't hard records to fall for, though they couldn't be more different from one another in many ways. A subliminal bond exists through a number of musicians that play on both releases, including Frisell (guitar), bassist Tim Luntzel and drummer Kenny Wollesen.

"The personnel is similar, which is a sign that this community of players shares this love of a broad range of music. It's not just me, it's not just some loony in Brooklyn that came from a small town and grew up on cowboy music. It's a movement, I think, as evidenced by the two records," says Scheinman, whose latest material is expressly melodic but has dabbled in more avant sounds, sometimes getting downright out there, which she loves. "Some of the gigs I've done with Nels [Cline] have been just my favorite. Being able to tangle and unify with somebody like that is pretty thrilling. I think my next record will be with Nels, Jim Black [drums] and Todd Sickafoose [bass], which is a band I toured last year with my music. Nels is after the ecstasy; he's a very sentimental player. If my records sound sentimental in a literal way – because of the melodicism and lyricism of it – his are sentimental purely on an energy level. I don't mean sentimental in any sort of romantic love scene in a movie way. It comes from a very deep sentiment, and he's after something ecstatic."

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