Jenny Scheinman always makes her next move a guessing game. The mercurial fiddler telegraphed this one when her Mischief & Mayhem quartet played the Village Vanguard in July 2010, adjourning to a Brooklyn recording studio with guitarist Nels Cline, bassist Todd Sickafoose and percussionist Jim Black right after their weeklong stint at the fabled club. M&M doesn’t reprise the vocal prowess of Scheinman’s eponymous CD of 2008 and eschews the jazziness of Crossing the Field. Peaks of mayhem are in rockin’ or Mahavishnu modes, with Scheinman and Cline acting as the swashbuckling protagonists, occasionally multitracked.
Opening the set, “A Ride With Polly Jean” (named for PJ Harvey) weds the soaring spirituality of Birds of Fire with the bubbling plasticity of Bitches Brew. “The Audit,” written as an anodyne during an IRS visitation, is the most quiescent of Scheinman’s meditations. While Cline and Scheinman don’t specifically echo John McLaughlin and Jerry Goodman, their chemistry and fervor in “Sand Dipper” and “Devil’s Ink” certainly yield the sort of wildness minted by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, with Black figuring prominently in the out-of-time intros.
Most impressive-and mischievous-among the rockers is “The Mite,” with Scheinman gradually rising to the challenge of Cline’s provocations, cresting with polyrhythmic stop-and-go revels that are ornery and astonishing. Less volatile, in a rockin’ bluesy vein, is Scheinman’s tribute to Ali Farka Touré (changed to “Touché” in the title), while the leader’s nod to the Vanguard, “Blues for the Double Vee,” is brimful of funkiness until Scheinman explodes into Gypsy strums and violinistic hysterics. Eluding easy categorization-and for more than two minutes, tempo, despite its title-“July Tenth in Three Four” changes gears a couple of times, with a mellow electric solo from Sickafoose that is unexpectedly touching, distilling all that is deliciously capricious about Scheinman’s music.