Already renowned as arranger to the stars and New York’s go-to violinist, Jenny Scheinman is building a new reputation as a formidable bandleader as well; her emotive scrapes and dramatic whines now dance around the propulsive jazz-rock of a newish quartet. The band—bassist Todd Sickafoose, drummer Jim Black and Wilco’s mighty Nels Cline playing unmatchable guitar hide-and-seek—is a mix of tender and comical, a downtown jazz version of a Mike Watt operas or Zappa’s Hot Rats. Their collaborative recording effort Mischief And Mayhem won’t be in stores until 2012, but a limited-edition pressing of the CD will be available at the band’s Village Vanguard residency, which starts tonight and runs nightly through August 21. The album’s final track, “The Mite,” has the forward momentum of a Glenn Branca piece with a bit of SST gnarl and, of course, Scheinman’s lyrical violin poking and wailing and shooting in all directions.
Download: Mischief And Mayhem, “The Mite”
What is “The Mite” about?
“The Mite” is the only old song on the album. “The Mite” came to me 10 years ago when I was writing for my second album… On a trip up in upstate New York I took a little walk into the woods near the hotel. Early spring, freezing cold, lots of snow on the ground, and I sat down on a stump. A few minutes later a feather fell out of the sky illuminated by a beam of light, and on it was a mite. A little live creature that had been hitching a ride on some bird way up there for who knows how long and for how many miles. An omen, a sign. Of what? Bravery? The Divine? Adventure?
What inspired it musically?
A week or so after the experience upstate I was biking through Prospect Park, clad in my winter snowsuit. It’s black with a red white and blue stripe down the sleeve, looks more like something one of those airport people wear who bring the planes in from the runway than something you’d want to wear on the slopes. I stopped and lay down in the very early grass of early spring, looked up again, thought about the little mite I had seen upstate and got this surf tempo/beat in my ear, then heard the chords start small and get more and more dense and dissonant, then the melody came in clearly.
What does its groove conjure for you?
It’s a mini-power rocker. A brave and unstoppable little beat. Little blackbelt, tenacious, hooky, it’s the underlying humorous charge.
What do you remember about the session for this song in particular?
We did two takes. The other one has this epic guitar solo. It was very hard to decide between them. But this one has the power and the humor, and contains those magic moments where you can’t tell who’s who. Nels and I just kind of merge. I love that.
What was it like playing a show nine months pregnant?
Awesome! I had been touring through much of my pregnancy with a string trio so Bellamy had been around music a lot, but I hadn’t done much with much low end. The bass and bass drum got him going, he was dancing his brains out in there. I was huge. I wore a tiny dress that made my belly look absurdly big but I felt sexy, people cheered, we rocked, I made it.
What’s been the most challenging thing about working on the upcoming Metallica and Lou Reed collabo?
Coming in at the end of a collaboration is always tricky. You are there to add some final touch, tie things together, put some angle on what’s already there. To my ear the tracks sounded amazing before I put anything on them. They were full, powerful, diverse, the lyrics are stunning and Lou Reed’s delivery is perfect. I was there to make it sound better, to make Lou clearer and more supported, Metallica bigger and badder, and both more distinct and more connected, to glue it all together. I tried to hug in some of the more fragmentary melodies so they felt more pertinent, in some cases tried to underline and echo existing content so as to create more sense of structure/intentionality, then in other cases add peripheral sounds/content to lift and expand the tracks. I added some big frames–tremelo waves, textures–and I added some big chorus lines in the strings.
What’s your favorite place to eat in Brooklyn?
Man, I just got back from a four and a half months on the road. The last place I ate here before leaving in April was amazing. Two Toms. A classic Italian place on 3rd Ave. in Gowanus/Park Slope. Flourescent lit, no menu, baby was fine, only the owners were there. I got a huge and amazing pork chop and a bunch of pasta and salad…. Then of course there’s Gramercy Tavern, the other end of the spectrum, where I was treated to the finest dining of my life with the most scholarly waitress I think I’ve ever met.
Jenny Scheinman’s residency at the Village Vanguard with Nels Cline, Jim Black and Todd Sickafoose starts tonight and runs through August 21.