True to its name, the quartet Parlour Game plays music meant to evoke informal, intimate, and innocent settings, a gently bucolic mix of vintage jazz and Americana. This is personal roots music for violinist Jenny Scheinman, who grew up playing folk tunes around the campfire while living outdoors in the summer and had her formative professional experience with the Hot Club of San Francisco. Drummer and co-leader Allison Miller, pianist Carmen Staaf, and bassist Tony Scherr are also well-versed in gently swinging melodies tweaked by a jazz sensibility.
Each of the 11 songs are band originals: eight by Scheinman, two by Miller, and one by both. While Miller’s compositions—the idiosyncratically angular “Beans & Rice,” the catchy, clipped “Top Shelf”—are engraved with the sign of Monk, Scheinman roams all over the place. “Play Money” and “The Right Fit” come early in the program and perhaps glide with too little friction. But between the elegant transitions in the ebullient “116th & Congress” (an ode to the diversity of new members after the 2018 election) and the tender caress in “Lead With Love” (the lone ballad), she rallies forth and closes the disc with her two best numbers: the irresistible Southern country blues of “Miss Battle’s Cannonball” and the dreamscape of “Sleep Rider,” recounting her memories of falling asleep on a horse as a child.
The interplay from all four members of Parlour Game is practically flawless. Scheinman and Scherr have worked together since the turn of the century, often in bands involving guitarist Bill Frisell, whose signature sound and approach are an influence here along with violinist Regina Carter’s more personal, thematic records. The revelation is Staaf, the least renowned of the quartet, who received equal billing with Miller on their Sunnyside album Science Fair last year. She nails the Monk references without slavish imitation, tosses Tyner-esque asides into “116th & Congress,” and uses her ample solo space to invariably capture the prevailing mood and spirit on what is a visceral yet nuanced project.
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