By Robert Ham | Published September 2019
Violinist Jenny Scheinman long has been a part of drummer Allison Miller’s circle of friends and collaborators, contributing mightily to Boom Tic Boom albums. But Parlour Game is the first time that the pair’s names both have been featured prominently on the cover of an album.
In part, that move was a simple reflection of the collaborative spirit of a record in which the two performers share compositional credits for all 11 tracks. Yet, it’s also a fitting shorthand for how Scheinman and Miller have melded their various musical interests into one pleasant and verdant whole, resulting in some of the most easygoing tunes that either have lent their names to.
The title of the album—and the project as a whole—also shares some secrets as to what’s in store, referencing the age-old practice of getting family and friends together in a shared space to play together. That feeling of bonhomie flows through Parlour Game, as—despite a collective history that includes an interest in avant-jazz and experimental music—everything included on the recording is pitched toward accessibility and easy relistening.
That’s the spirit of a track like “The Right Fit,” a lucid bit of funk-jazz that announces its intentions from the jump with Scheinman’s violin swinging right into a bouncy melody while Miller, bassist Tony Scherr and pianist Carmen Staaf settle into a tight groove behind her. They dabble in the verse-chorus-verse structure of a great pop tune, while leaving some room for quick-hit solos. That mood is mirrored on tracks like “Miss Battle’s Cannonball” and the hip-hop-inspired “Fake Weather.” This band seemingly came to build an underground tunnel between a Bonnaroo-like outdoor festival and a cramped nightclub.
Surrounding those tunes are several variations on jazz themes, some more successful than others. The swinging “Top Shelf” (a woozy ode to drinking the good stuff), the New Orelans-inspired “Beans & Rice” (driven by some especially spirited playing from Staaf) and the aching ballad “Sleep Rider” (which closes out Parlour Game) are the clear standouts, with the featherlight “Lead With Love” and the flat “Michigan” serving as small dead spots in the mix. But even within those songs, moments of brilliance pop out, like Scherr’s fluid electric bass work on the latter or a piano solo that feels like it’s spilling over the sides of the former song.
Taken as a whole, then, Schieman and Miller’s collaboration is a fine opening salvo for a new project, and one that promises more fine music in the future. They haven’t quite settled into their collective voice yet, but, if this album is any indication, they’re well on their way.
Parlour Game: Play Money; 116th & Congress; The Right Fit; Michigan; Fake Weather; Lead With Love; Beans & Rice; Meanwhile; Top Shelf; Miss Battle’s Cannonball; Sleep Rider. (48:19)
Personnel: Jenny Scheinman, violin; Allison Miller, drums; Tony Scherr, bass; Carmen Staaf, piano.