I read an article from NPR titled: Who Needs Drugs When You've Got Music? The answer, as it turns out? Nobody. Under the right circumstances, states the cited study, music has the same effect on your brain as drugs. And not just any kind of drugs, the good kind of drugs. The kind of drugs that make you feel all warm and gooey. The kind that make you feel in love with the whole world. The kind people pay real money for. The kind that really fuck you up.
So, the Jenny Scheinman trio blew my mind, thoroughly and unapologetically. I saw her in January playing with Bill Frisell and Brian Blade. Scheinman is tall and in her crowsnest hair she nestled black flamenco flowers. But that's about all I took in of the woman because she's the kind of gal who don't close her eyes when she plays. You do.
Jenny's songs are not only brilliantly melodic, they are also rhythmically complex, the beauty part being that neither of these elements is compromised in order to accommodate the other. Further, Scheinman is a master of understatement which is to say that she makes you want to hear more yet she never leaves you without enough.
Bill's guitar playing was elastic. It shaped itself to every idea. It held fast to the lines and it pulled and stretched. It was tight as hell and snapped when it needed to. And Bill was without pretense. His face seemed illuminated with pure joy. He stood sideways to the audience, never taking so much as an eyelash off of Jenny. There was something entirely lovely about those two as collaborators. It seemed familial, fraternal.
I had never seen Brian Blade live before so I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew he was a jazz drummer working alongside folks like Wayne Shorter and Joshua Redman, but I was surprised to learn (in the lobby before the show) that he often accompanies singer-songwriter types as well.
To say that Brian Blade knows and understands his instrument may seem like a gross understatement. But it isn't. Measures before Blade was going to make a certain sound emerge from his kit, he would slowly draw out a mallet, adjust it in his hand, ready it for attack and strike with such precision, such accuracy and such heart that it was hard to imagine that the music could even exist without that particular sound. For me, it seemed akin to watching a maestro conduct many beats ahead of where his orchestra is. Imagine a long and lean violin line punctuated by jarring, staccato movements from the podium only to be revealed musically 6 beats later. Imagine a violent cue for a cymbal crash falling upon a silent and reclining percussionist, or the smooth pattern of a legato rallentando being indicated to a viola section that is busy outlining a chord with eighth note off-beats. Like the maestro, Blade knows what's coming, he hears it like a train miles down the track, and he delivers it readily and with a steady hand. What made this all the more impressive, however, was the fact that most of what Scheinman and company were doing was improvisational meaning that Blade had such an intuitive sense of the music, where it was headed and how it was going to get there, that he could hear what he was going to add to the music well before that music had even been created.
But the very best part of the show, a show heady enough to tickle the fancy of even the headiest of jazz-heads, was that, despite all the intricacies-- or because of them-- there was something truly earthy, even visceral about the Scheinman show. The exchange was thick between the musicians, what they added, what they took, who had it, who gave it, the exchange was so thick that you could almost see it. God knows, you could feel it.
After the show we walked a few chilly blocks and pulled up a couple of stools at the nearby watering hole. We were high and reckless and in love with the world. There was an acoustic outfit playing radio covers at the end of the bar. They didn't seem to notice us. Hell, they didn't much seem to notice each other.
And soon we were back down.
(photo of Jenny is by Michael Wilson)