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Women in jazz: A few words about that, and two to see

Jazz is, for the most part, a boys’ club. (A straight boys’ club, but that’s another topic.) Women have been involved with jazz from the start, but the spotlight has been on the men. The majority of jazz artists today are male. When we think of women in jazz, it’s singers who come to mind, or piano players. It’s still so rare to see women play other instruments that when the great pianist Kenny Barron came to the Dakota in mid-November, much of the buzz was about his band, which included Linda Oh on bass and Kim Thompson on drums.

This week brings two rising jazz stars to town, both women. One is a vocalist, but a most unusual vocalist. The other plays violin and also sings. Both are thoroughly modern, drawing influences and ideas from everywhere. The bad news is, both are performing on the same night, Thursday.

Born in France of French and Beninese parents, Mina Agossi studied theater and traveled extensively before landing in a swing and New Orleans-style jazz band that played in France and Ireland. Drawn to modern jazz, she quickly developed a unique style that’s intensely personal and seems utterly unselfconscious. Her whole body is an instrument. She’s best when her band is simple and stripped-down — double bass only, or drums and double bass — although her latest CD, “Just Like a Lady,” for which she’s currently on tour, also features keyboard, guitar, steel pans, electronics and percussion.

If you prefer a singer who stands up straight, smiles and puts all the notes where they belong, Agossi probably isn’t for you. But if you’re up for an unpredictable journey, unexpected sounds and rhythms, and real passion and emotion, check her out. Like many young artists today, she’s a true world musician, performing originals, pop covers and standards, colored by blues, rock and hip-hop, improvising freely and taking risks.

My favorite cuts on the new CD are a mesmerizing “Waters of March” that starts off simple (bass, voice) and builds to a searing rock-and-roll finish (take that, Jobim!), and a wistful, almost funereal take on Lennon and McCartney’s “And I Love Her.” Here’s Agossi’s version of the Jimi Hendrix tune “Voodoo Child.”

At the Dakota, she’ll perform with her trio and guests Christopher Shillock, poet, and Daniel Furuta, cellist.

Mina Agossi, Thursday, Dec. 2, 7 p.m., Dakota, 1010 Nicollet Mall ($20). Tickets online or call 612-332-JAZZ (612-333-5299).

November began with Regina Carter at the Dakota; December will start with Jenny Scheinman at the Walker. The two violinists couldn’t be more different. While Carter’s latest project, “Reverse Thread,” is immersed in the history of the African Diaspora, Scheinman is all about right now, this minute.

A folk/country/rock/jazz musician/composer, Scheinman has worked with a broad spectrum of artists including Bill Frisell, Lou Reed, Jason Moran, and Lucinda Williams. Her band, Mischief and Mayhem, includes guitarist Nels Cline (Wilco), bassist Todd Sickafoose (Ani DeFranco), and drummer Jim Black (AlasNoAxis, Laurie Anderson).

Scheinman describes M&M as “a swarmy passionate lyrical rocking band.” The tracks I’ve heard (“Junius Elektra,” “The Mite”) are thrilling, part lyricism, part noise, exuberant and improvisational. Listen to a clip from “Junius Elektra” on the Walker’s website (see under Related Audio/Video).

This is the final show in the Walker’s three-part “New Jazz” miniseries, which began with Dave Douglas and Keystone in October and continued with Brad Mehldau and the SPCO in early November. Both are high on my list of the year’s most provocative and intriguing performances.

Jenny Scheinman’s Mischief and Mayhem, Dec. 2, 8 p.m., McGuire Theater, Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis ($22/$18 members). Tickets online or call 612-375-7600.

If you’re curious to know more about the history of women in jazz, NPR has produced a two-part program for its “Jazz Profiles” series that’s worth your time. Here’s part 1 and here’s part 2.

Pamela Espeland keeps a Twin Cities live jazz calendar, blogs about jazz at Bebopified and tweets about jazz on Twitter.

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