Sunday, April 2, 2017

Jenny Scheinman's "Here on Earth" Simple Music for Stressful Times

Jenny Scheinman photo  Erik Jacobs

The violinist Jenny Scheinman has made her mark in the world of jazz, avant-rock, Gypsy jazz and Americana. On her latest offering, Here On Earth, she takes on the “fiddle” music of Appalachia, sprinkles it with Irish folk music and renders it into its essence- pure, unadulterated honest music of the working class who find solace from their daily drudgery in the joyful, bittersweet bows of a violin.

Born and raised on the western coast of California, the child of back-to-the-land, folk musicians, Scheinman has been playing music from an early age. Since moving to New York in 1999, Scheinman has steadily made her mark on the music scene. Her career has and continues to be as eclectic as one could imagine. When not leading her own collaborations, her violin sounds have graced the work of Norah Jones, Marc Ribot, Jason Moran and Bill Frisell to name a few.

On Here on Earth she has chosen to portray what she calls “fiddle’ music with spare instrumentation, mostly using an accompanying guitarist, at times adding accents of banjo and resonator guitar and tuba, mostly eschewing the use of any purely percussive instrument.  The rhythms of the songs are instead delicately filigreed with repeating finger-picked lines and sustained bowing techniques. The music evokes chilly nights, hovering by blazing campfires with slightly inebriated friends in the middle of the woods somewhere. There is a simple, quiet joy to this music. The honesty and passion with which it is played is infectious.Like the resonator guitar work of Ross Hammond's recent  Follow Your Heart, this is simple music, played beautifully-and anitdote for these stressful times.

Scheinman has penned all the compositions on this album, all fifteen of them. All are relatively short pieces ranging from the 37 second “Bug in the Honey” to the almost five minute “The Road to Manilla.” They have homey names like the evocative “Hive of Bees,”dance-like  “Don’t Knock Out the Dog’s Teeth,” the shit-kicking, hoe-down sound of “Deck Saw, Porch Saw,”  the droning "Broken Pipeline"and the Celtic inspired “Annabelle and the Bird.”

The musicians are all excellent, each lending their own texture to this raw, emotional music. Bill Frisell’s filigreed guitar work is woven through Scheinman’s songs like fine threads of gold spun into a tapestry.  Accompanying guitar, tuba and banjo work by Danny Barnes and guitar and banjo work by Robbie Fulks are seamlessly intertwined to create Scheinman’s musical vision. Robbie Gjersoe’s delicate resonator guitar adds another voice on "Broken Pipeline" and “Deck Saw, Porch Saw.”

Throughout it all, Scheinman’s violin is a clarion voice. Whether her ostinato bowing simulates eerie urgency, her pizzicato plucking builds rhythmic intensity or her poignant playing is used to state a particularly moving melody line she has complete control of the emotional impact of her music.

There is something about wordless fiddle music like this, despite the obvious differences in the musicality and spirit of each composition, when listened to in one sitting, the songs all seem to melt into each other like separate pads of butter in a hot skillet.  But instead of this being a fatal flaw it is admirable attribute. The music is served up like a suite that has some shining highlights, but it stands as a totally unified piece of art. An honest effort to pay homage to a music born from hardship but never victim to despair. One can listen to this album on repeat mode, as I have, and never get weary of its haunting melodies, nor doubt its underlying message of hope. There is nothing revolutionary about this music, but  Jenny Scheinman’s Here on Earth  is a reminder that sometimes the simplest music can make the greatest impression.

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