Scheinman & Miller Play a Parlour Game


PARLOUR GAME / SCHEINMAN-MILLER: Play Money. 116th and Congress. The Right Fit. Michigan. Fake Weather. Lead With Love. Beans and Rice. Meanwhile. Top Shelf. Miss Battle’s Cannonball. Sleep Rider / Jenny Scheinman, vln; Carmen Staaf, pno; Tony Scherr, bs; Allison Miller, dm / Royal Potato Family Records 193483788173

This disc combines the talents of two indie-jazz women, violinist Jenny Scheinmen and drummer Allison Miller, is a set of co-written pieces. The publicity blurb for this CD suggests that the music is “ambitious” and innovative, but in reality it’s just a nice mainstream jam session, which is fine by me since the music is fun to listen to.

Play Money, the opener, starts out like a Dr. John or Professor Longhair piece with that odd New Orleans backbeat they favored. Scheinman plays the melody, but the solo space is then dominated by pianist Carmen Staaf for two choruses, and very fine piano it is. When Scheinman enters, she is playing Cajun-style fiddle in the manner of Michael Doucet of BeauSoleil. The only thing I disliked about this CD was the trimmed high end, which removed too much edge from the performances, and the ultra-warm ambience. No jazz record should be engineered like this.

116th and Congress is a sort of 5/4 jump-blues tune, if you can imagine such a thing, played with a lift and drive by the quartet. Actually, the tempo shifts quite a bit within the piece, probably the influence of drummer Miller. Staaf again plays an excellent solo, with Scheinman filling in on her last few bars before played her own solo. She stays within one chord most of the time. The Right Fit has a slow, slightly funky beat, and on this track Scheinman is really good, followed by more of Staaf’s blues-influenced piano. Michigan, alas, doesn’t have much of a tune and chord changes are quite mundane, but Miller’s drumming is impressive in this one.

Fake Weather, a possible reference to the Climate Change hoax, is a fairly interesting piece with a repeated ground bass over which the soloists improvise. By this point I came to realize that Scheinman is an improviser who makes the most of her limited abilities on her instrument. She is not a virtuoso in the way that David Balakrishnan and others are, but she sets good moods and sticks with them. Lead With Love is a ballad, but the following piece, Beans and Rice, is a nice, medium-tempo blues-influenced piece that has some of the most interesting chord changes on the entire set. Once again, it is Staaf who impresses the listener with her interesting and lively piano, although Scheinman is very playful here as well, using rising chromatic string tremolos.

Meanwhile is the fastest piece on the record, a really manic-sounding jump tune played with brio and spirit—but it only lasts 46 seconds! This is followed by Top Shelf, the most rhythmically and harmonically advanced piece in the set, sounding almost like Thelonious Monk on acid. There are good solos all around.

Miss Battle’s Cannonball has a funky blues beat to it, well played by Scheinman in her Michael Doucet style. Once again, Staaf impresses and Miller plays good drums behind them. The finale, Sleep Rider, is another ballad, with Miller on brushes and both Staaf and Scheinman playing lullaby-like solos.

A good album, then, with some very good tracks on it and a few duds.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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