Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

Nothing fancy theme-wise this time around. Just three fine albums either by violinists or prominently featuring violins. Besides, when I try to get topical with these intros, I date myself. By the time I sent and the 3IGs posted my last column, my tirade about spring-like conditions was coming from a Philadelphia blanketed by a foot of snow.

The goofy cartoon dinosaur/Martian/whatever on the cover of Periodic Trespasses Fresh Sound/New Talent is the first tip-off that this second CD from violinist Sam Bardfeld leans more toward the whimsical than your average jazz release. A New York native and collaborator with many downtown musicians, including John Zorn and Steven Bernstein, Bardfeld shares a bit of their wiseacre sense of humor but with less of a snarky edge. Subtitled The Saul Cycle, the CD intersperses spoken-word intervals between tunes, telling the story of the title character, a confused sort who, having ìfailed to master the universe during the day,î must choose whether to ìpursue a career in periodontal surgery or dive into the unknown seas of his long repressed dream, to become a master of the Renaissance krummhorn.î The nonsensical narrative ripe with over-enunciated, florid verbiage recalls the story-songs of Frank Zappa, and though Bardfeld keeps stories and songs separate, his juggling of intricate melodies wouldnít sound too alien next to "The Adventures of Gregory Peccary." The music itself is narrative, cinematic; while Bardfeld and vibist Tom Beckham dance melodic jigs, Ron Hortonís trumpet solos engage them in jovial conversation. Meanwhile, bassist Sean Conly and drummer Satoshi Takeishi walk along at a brisk pace, waving amiably with well-chosen punctuations. Bardfeldís combination of gleeful melody and light-hearted story-telling could be just the thing to turn smarter tots towards new jazz. {8}

Violinist Jenny Scheinman mines the folk and roots fields for melodic ideas, combining those influences with a vivid pop sensibility to much the same effect as the similarly uncategorizable Tin Hat Trio. (Do I sense a subgenre emerging?) Her fourth CD, 12 Songs (Cryptogramophone), consists of just that, a dozen tracks with such strong themes and dense arrangements that they often feel through-composed, even though they generally follow a standard head-solos-head structure. Scheinman has recorded extensively with Bill Frisell (who is in the line-up for this disc), and has learned much from the guitarist about evoking narrative images with purely instrumental tools. Tom Waits is also an apparent influence (as he is with all the aforementioned). Scheinmanís arrangements often recall Waitsí unique sense of nostalgia for a non-existent era, full of scratchy 78s playing through the loudspeakers at a carnival situated directly across a Grapes of Wrath dirt road from an Edward Hopper bar. That atmosphere is aided by the unique combination of instruments Sheinman corrals for the disc; along with the violinist/leader and Frisell, the line-up consists of: Ron Miles (cornet), Doug Wieselman (clarinet), Rachelle Garniez (accordion/piano/clavinola), Tim Luntzel (bass), and Dan Rieser (drums). The cover art for 12 Songs consists of black and white childrenís book drawings; inside, Jenny Scheinman follows up on that concept with twelve perfectly realized little fairy tales. {8.5}

Jim Blackís name on the back of any new arrival is always cause for hope, and this disc from Canadian reedsman Quinsin Nachoff continues the trend. Nachoffís Magic Numbers Songlines ensemble combines a jazz trio with a string quartet, and the result is an intricate waltz between progressive jazz and modern chamber music, the lines so blurred that neither category is restricted to the half of the group that youíd expect. Not that splitting them in half does justice to the music anyway; this is a wholly integrated seven-piece band whose melodies weave around one another, whose improvisations bounce back and forth and build on each otherís foundations. Jazz with strings used to imply treacly ballad treatments with maudlin violins weeping in the background as a solemn saxophonist tried to prove his ìlegitimacyî by confining himself to dull solemnity. But the strings here are jagged, violent and spontaneous, lush when necessary without being sentimental, contributing solos just as integral to the music as those of the ìtraditionalî jazz artists, led by Nathalie Boninís gymnastic violin. Bassist Mark Helias bridges the two worlds, while Black, as usual, wanders in and out of both and several others beside, leaping numbly from avant abstraction to driving rock backbeats. The leader has a gift for lithe, melodic solos, but it his conception of this music that is his most important contribution, penning labyrinthine melodies that collide, dance around each other, and veer off at right angles, or suddenly explode into harsh abstraction. {10}

Blabber n' Smoke is Shaun's attempt to build a nice little home for jazz within the otherwise rocking confines of TIG. Each (optimistically) regular column will gather together reviews of several new releases, maintaining the usual 11-scale review meter.