Bassist Ben Allison is bringing his fine band Man Size Safe back to Chicago for a weekend stint at the Green Mill. Here’s what I wrote about them when they played in Chicago last March.

Allison’s lineup is different in a couple significant ways this time: drummer Rudy Royston is filling in for Michael Sarin and superb violinist Jenny Scheinman is taking over the front-line spot of saxophonist Michael Blake. She’s a great sideman–I don’t know many musicians who could play with country-rock avatar Rodney Crowell on one visit and with a jazz bassist like Allison on the next–but I’m still waiting for the day she actually leads a group of her own in Chicago.

Last year Scheinman released two albums on Koch that reflect the divide that’s developing in her musical career. On a self-titled recording from last spring she’s a twangy singer-songwriter, an identity she’s assumed relatively recently. Though she’s played frequently with guitarist Bill Frisell, who’s long drawn from American roots music, her own approach has little to do with his: she splits the difference between Gillian Welch and Lucinda Williams (with whom she’s also worked). As a singer Scheinman lacks the charisma, presence, and range of either, but her songwriting is impressive.

In October she released Crossing the Field, an all-instrumental outing that’s deeply rooted in jazz but frequently transcends it to become a lovely kind of urbane Americana. Scheinman’s excellent band that includes Frisell, pianist Jason Moran, cornetist Ron Miles, and clarinetist Doug Wiesselman, but the real star is producer and arranger Sascha von Oertzen. Most of the tracks feature elaborate string charts, which from one minute to the next can go from sounding like some lost Aaron Copland score to cavorting like a Raymond Scott miniature.

I wish there were more pieces like the Ellington number “Awful Sad,” where Scheinman gets some extended improvising time–in some ways she’s the least prominent presence on the album, though she wrote all the music (except of course that Ellington tune). But all the same I really dig this record–there isn’t much like it out there.

Today’s playlist:

Sean Conly, Re:Action (Clean Feed)
P.G. Six, Parlor Tricks and Porch Favorites (Amish)
Machito and His Afro-Cubans, Freezelandia (Tumbao)
Eleanoora Rosenholm, Älä Kysy Kuolleilta, He Sanoivat (Fonal)
Ella Washington, He Called Me Baby (Soulscape)