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Review: Jenny Scheinman & Myra Melford Duo

By Cynthia Close, Burlington Writers Workshop

 

The question, what brought violinist/vocalist Jenny Scheinman together with pianist Myra Melford for this performance at the Flynn Space, was answered in part during the free, preconcert conversation with critic – in – residence Bob Blumenthal. While they are not widely known as a performing duo, their friendship has spanned years, and they have performed together within the context of larger bands, most recently as members of Allison Miller’s group Boom-Tick-Boom.

 

Blumenthal pressed them to clarify how they developed their musical relationship. As might be expected, it was more of an intuitive thing, one difficult to define; however, later that evening, in front of an appreciative crowd, further explanations were unnecessary.

 

When I picked up my tickets, it was suggested that I arrive early as the show was sold out and there is an open seating policy at the Flynn Space. The theater was set up coffee house style with round tables surrounded by chairs in the center, a raised platform and a grand piano at the far end, and several rows of seating on the sidelines. Artistic Director Steve MacQueen provided opening remarks, thanking sponsors, etc. and informed us that the show was being taped for a Vermont PBS broadcast. Then, without fanfare he introduced the evening’s performers.

 

It is hard to imagine two musicians more in touch with each other and with their instruments than Scheinman and Melford. Both are reed slim and were dressed in monotone, as if to suggest it is the listening that we should be paying attention to, not the looking. Scheinman is tall, she stands while playing, but her body seems to become one with her fiddle and bow, the instrument like an extra appendage. Her gestures are so fluid and natural you are hardly aware where her arm and hand ends and the bow begins.

 

Melford is tiny, dressed in black; she perches on the piano bench. She is in control as her fingers fly across the keys and her feet, in constant rhythmic thumping on the floor, echo her creative energy barely held in check. To play in a jazz duo requires simpatico, a feeling of trust, and an ability to anticipate the unknown. Normally I would think of the piano as being the dominant instrument, but in this case, it was usually Scheinman’s violin that took the lead, except for the moments when she gave way to a Melford solo excursion.

 

The sheer pleasure both these fine musicians take in making music together was evident. Scheinman is known for being a talented vocalist so I was a little disappointed when she informed us she would not be singing tonight. She did explain that she tends to keep these two parts of her performing life separate, so we would be getting the “fiddle player” and not the vocalist this time around. The music was so rich and varied, hinting at all the elements from their past musical lives, that by the end of the evening, as the crowd rose to their feet in a much deserved standing ovation, I realized I hadn’t missed the singing at all.