In a little over a decade, West Coast-to-NYC transplant Jenny Scheinman has amassed herself an outstanding resume. She’s been voted the #1 Rising Star Violinist title in the DownBeat Magazine Critics Poll and been listed as one of their Top Ten violinists for the last five years. She’s recorded and/or performed with Norah Jones, The Hot Club of San Francisco, Myra Melford, Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell, John Zorn, Lucinda Williams, Leni Stern, Ron Miles, Danny Barnes (ex-Bad Livers), Ben Allison, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and the incredible ROVA homage to Coltrane’s Ascension, Orkestrova Electric Ascension (Atavistic, 2005). She’s played in jazz and free improv contexts, and also has a parallel career as a singer/songwriter in what could be called an Americana context (i.e., that gorgeous gray area where folk, country, rock, blues, etc. overlap/intermingle). It is the latter that brings Ms. Scheinman to Chicago (where only several weeks before she played the legendary Green Mill jazz club with Ben Allison’s ace combo), to the classy venue that is the Old Town School of Folk Music.
Ms. Scheinman played violin, mandolin, and sang. Accompanied only by an acoustic guitarist, she sang mostly originals, excellent songs whose intelligent, vivid lyrics took you into their distinct times and places and the characters populating them. Her songs are in the tradition of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Mississippi John Hurt, and Lucinda Williams, singing in a sturdy, plainspoken, heartfelt alto. Without a trace of hokum, Ms. Scheinman’s intimate songs and delivery made me feel as if I could’ve been listening to her on a back porch. While the context was in American folk tradition, her violin sound had a density that was somewhat unusual-isolated moments it sounded as if there was more than one violinist on stage.
Forgive the hyperbole, but Jenny Scheinman is a complete American musician-beyond category, in the words of Duke Ellington. As far as sobriquets on music go, they’re mainly for marketing types, not for musicians or music lovers. Hear her.