Violinist Jenny Sheinman draws upon her varied experiences as an improviser to enrich a set of memorably tuneful instrumentals. Coast to coast, Sheinman has played with a who's-who of improvised music, from Scott Amendola and Carla Bozulich to Bill Frisell and Norah Jones. While there are no vocals on "12 Songs," that doesn't interfere with the tunes' natural ability to insinuate themselves into your subconscious. Ably abetted by a small group of her peers, Scheinman has written a subtle but compelling album.
With a septet at her disposal, featuring - guitarist Bill Frisell, trumpeter Ron Miles, clarinetist Doug Weiselman, accordionist/keyboardist Rachelle Garniez, bassist Tim Luntzel and drummer Dan Rieser, the album is steeped in a rich Americana vibe that pushes at its boundaries. Personnel line ups vary so that not every musician is featured on each tune. The album has a sparse and un-congested feel, which lends more space for melodic invention. Solos are plentiful, but brief, and never at the expense of the structure of the tunes themselves. Scheinman's lyrical violin playing is found all over the album, naturally, but her fellow musicians are also given plenty of space to represent themselves.
The quirky phrasing of Scheinman's frequent employer and fellow conspirator, Bill Frisell, are heard in the haunting melodies and lush harmonies of these catchy and irrepressible tunes. Although this album may at first sound overly Frisellian, it actually sounds more like the sort of album Frisell used to make, before he became subsumed into NPR-safe Americana. Scheinman is a more unpredictable sort however. Although the majority of songs here are very much in tune with the heartland, they are tinged with traces of Klezmer, Celtic, Calypso, Bluegrass, Country, Blues, and other folk variations.
While these tunes are instantly enjoyable they come with a rich, dark underbelly that betrays their sunny exterior. It's the sort of thing Frisell used to write, fortunately that tradition is still alive. Intriguingly, Frisell himself sounds better here than he does on his own recent records, freed of the pressure to make commercially appealing music, he lets himself go off on wilder tangents.
"12 Songs" boasts a memorable collection of well written songs that sound instantly familiar, yet strangely timeless. This is one to spin over and over again.