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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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MARIA SCHNEIDER
ORCHESTRA

The Thompson Fields

ArtistShare AS0137

 

 

  1. Walking By Flashlight

  2. The Monarch And The Milkweed

  3. Arbiters Of Evolution

  4. The Thompson Fields

  5. Home

  6. Nimbus

  7. A Potters Song

  8. Lembrança


Maria Schneider - Conductor

Steve Wilson - Alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet, flute, alto flute

Dave Pietro - Alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet, flute, alto flute, bass flute, piccolo

Rich Perry - Tenor sax

Donny McCaslin - Tenor sax, clarinet, flute

Scott Robinson - Baritone sax, bass clarinet, alto clarinet, clarinet

Tony Kadleck, Greg Gisbert, Augie Haas, Mike Rodriguez - Trumpet, fluegelhorn

Keith O'Quinn, Ryan Keberle, Marshall Gilkes - Trombone

George Flynn - Bass trombone

Gary Versace - Accordion

Lage Luna - Guitar

Frank Kimbrough - Piano

Jay Anderson - Bass

Clarence Penn - Drums

Rogerio Boccato - Percussion (track 8)


Maria Schneider is a genuine original. She played piano, clarinet and violin in her youth but quickly turned her attention to composition (her graduate work was in jazz and contemporary writing). She had the early advantage of assisting Gil Evans for three years and subsequently studied with Bob Brookmeyer from 1986–199l, contributing charts for the Village Vanguard Orchestra at that time. She formed her own orchestra in 1992, when her first album Evanescence was also released. Over the years, she has toured widely with her band and has been commissioned to write works for, as well as conduct, a number of other big bands and orchestras. In addition, she has won several Grammys, the most recent of which was for Best Classical Contemporary Composition for the work Winter Morning Walks. The fact that she can operate with equal facility in both classical and jazz genres shouldn't in any way undermine her jazz credentials. After all, she has won numerous Down Beat Critics Awards in the categories Best Composer, Best Arranger and Best Big Band. Now in her mid 50s, she can be regarded as in her artistic prime, if this fine album is anything to go by. Among those in her orchestra who've had a long musical association with her (twenty years plus) are tenorist Rich Perry, multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson and pianist Frank Kimbrough.

The beautifully produced booklet which accompanies this latest CD contains, alongside some exquisite photographs, Schneider's personal reflections on each track. Walking By Flashlight is inspired by a poem by Ted Kooser, US Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize Winner. This track features the lucid tones of the versatile Scott Robinson's alto clarinet with a richly textured orchestral backing. The Monarch And The Milkweed refers to the relationship between the monarch butterfly and the milkweed plant necessary to the perpetuation of that species. Here the flawless trombone of Marshall Gilkes and Greg Gisbert's stylish flugelhorn combine well, backed by Kimbrough's always sensitive piano playing. Arbiters Of Evolution owes it's title to the Cornell evolutionary biologist, Ed Scholes, who speaks of the female birds-of-paradise as the “arbiters of evolution”. This is a strong orchestral piece, representing a change of mood with more momentum than the earlier tracks, though it does have its quieter moments. Donny McCaslin is impassioned on tenor sax, Scott Robinson ruminative on baritone.

The Thompson Fields is the title track for the album and reflects the memories of childhood days for Schneider as well as more recent recollections linked to a neighbours farm in southwest Minnesota, her home state. The melody, then, is nostalgic and distinctive, helped by the splendid Frank Kimbrough's evocation of rain falling on fields (well, that's what it conjured up for me) and Lage Lund's plangent guitar. Home is dedicated to George Wein, founder of the Newport Jazz Festival and indeed, was actually premiered there. Rich Perry's dreamy tenor plays against the orchestral background. There are almost hymn-like textures to this impressive piece. Nimbus is about weather (what else?). Steve Wilson, who solos on alto sax, contributes some quality improvisation but has conspicuous support from the rhythm section, especially drummer Clarence Penn. A Potter's Song is dedicated to the memory of Laurie Frink, an inspirational figure as a jazz trumpeter and teacher. She died in 2013 and had been with the Maria Schneider Orchestra from the beginning, present as lead trumpeter on every recording they made up to the time of her death. She was also a potter, hence the title. This is another strong piece with Gary Versace (accordionist) to the fore, demonstrating exemplary interplay with the orchestra and the trombone of Keith O'Quinn, a colleague from Laurie's time with the Gerry Mulligan Big Band back in the day, paying his own instrumental tribute. The final track, Lembrança, (the word means 'remembrance') also carries a dedication, this time to the late Brazilian composer and musician, Paulo Moura. Fittingly, samba is part of the theme, as Maria describes it, coming 'in and out of the music, like a memory coming in and out of focus'. Much of it is exuberant music. Percussion, in the capable hands of Rogerio Boccato, complemented by Penn's powerful drumming, is prominent as is the swinging trombone of Ryan Keberle. Gary Versace's accordion can also be heard and there is a supple bass solo from Jay Anderson. There is a change of mood towards the end, the emphasis becoming more reflective. This is an excellent piece of collaborative musicianship.

I've lingered over this album 'because it's worth it', to tweak an advertising slogan. It is a delight, full of wonderful orchestrations and atmospheric pieces. Read Maria Schneider's liner notes alongside the listening experience and you'll feel you've been on a journey with her, to your great enrichment.

James Poore



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