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Maria Schneider website


Sky Blue

ARTISTSHARE AS0065 [62:49]




The ‘Pretty’ Road [13:23]
Aires de Lando [9:56]
Rich’s Piece [9:29]
Cerulean Skies [21:55]
Sky Blue [8:06]
All written and arranged by Maria Schneider
Tony Kadleck, Jason Carder, Laurie Frink, Ingrid Jensen (trumpet, flugelhorn), Keith O’Quinn, Ryan Keberle, Marshall Gilkes (trombone), George Flynn (bass trombone, contrabass trombone), Steve Wilson, Charles Pillow (reeds), Rich Perry (tenor, flute), Donny McCaslin (tenor, clarinet), Scott Robinson (baritone, clarinet, bass clarinet), Frank Kimbrough (piano), Gary Versace (accordion), (Ben Monder (guitar), Jay Anderson (bass), Clarence Penn (drums), Gonzalo Grau, Jon Wikan (cajon, palmas, percussion), Luciana Souza (voice)
Recorded January 6-9, 2007, Legacy Recording Studios, New York

To say that Maria Schneider’s writing often makes one think of Gil Evans (with whom she worked at one time) is not to label her derivative; it is merely a way of getting one’s bearings, a way of making it clear that her music belongs firmly in a distinguished jazz tradition (there are, after all, reminiscences of Ellington too).

But her ears and her mind stretch beyond ‘pure’ jazz and the music is all the better for that openness to other idioms and musical languages. So, for example, ‘Aires de Lodos’ draws on Schneider’s experience of hearing the Peruvian music called lando, music which, in her words is "felt in polyrhythmic patterns of 12/8 over 6/4". That music was, more or less unconsciously, recalled by Schneider when fulfilling a commission for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association. The piece involves some very demanding writing for clarinet, carried off with panache by Scott Robinson, over complex and constantly changing polyrhythms. The results are exhilarating and fascinating. In the piece which starts off the album, ‘The "Pretty" Town, featuring a lengthy solo by Ingrid Jensen on flugelhorn inescapably offers reminders of collaborations between Miles Davis and Gil Evans. But there’s no question of mere imitation; neither Schneider as writer/arranger or Jensen as a soloist is anything like a mere clone. Indeed it is a characteristic quality of Schneider’s writing on this album that she seems always to have been thinking very much of the individuality of the featured soloist, writing for them, in the most literal sense, at the very same time that she is working out the implications of her own musical ideas and imaginations. But then that is precisely what both Ellington and Evans did. She says of ‘Rich’s Piece’, featuring tenorist Rich Perry, that it "came to me not as notes, but as sounds-the sound of Rich Perry". Even without hearing that from the composer herself, one would have suspected it from the music itself.

Schneider has a lovely ear for the textural detail, whether it be the accordion of Gary Versace in ‘Aires de Lando’, the guitar of Ben Monder in ‘Cerulean Skies’ or the wonderfully atmospheric resonances of the deep trombones, bass trombone and contrabass trombone, played by George Flynn, especially at the close of ‘Rich’s Piece’. Orchestral jazz writing in which all the orchestral work, all the details of the accompaniment, are as compelling as the solo improvisations is a relatively rare phenomenon – that is certainly the case here.

Rich Perry sustains the slow, at times almost static, mood of his ‘Piece’ superbly, phrases and lines sustained over or against a slowly shifting orchestral backdrop. In ‘Sky Blue’, the soprano sax of Steve Wilson is featured, another slow piece, in which we are given every opportunity to relish the aural textures of the writing. ‘Sky Blue’ was written after the death of a friend, and there is great tenderness and love in the music, as Wilson’s soprano sound, more rounded in tone than that of many jazz soprano players, decorates and rides above some more rich (but never merely rhetorical or self indulgent) orchestral writing. There is a gratifying sense of wholeness, of logical movement from beginning to end about ‘Sky Blue’.

‘Cerulean Skies’ is much the longest piece here, and in some ways the most adventurous too. It was commissioned for Peter Sellars’ New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna. It is a beautiful evocation of trees richly populated by a variety of birds. Some use is made of prerecorded bird song, but any associations with, say Rautavaara’s Cantus Arcticus should be quickly dismissed from the mind. This is about as far from Finnish bleakness (however beautiful) as we could very well be. It is lush, rich, dense music, full of warmth and sunshine. As well as a recording, heard at the piece’s close of the cerulean warbler, we hear some impressive imitations (produced vocally, instrumentally or by the use of whistles) of other bird song. Above and between these sounds there are solos by Donny McCaslin on tenor sax - assured, deliberative and powerful, finally soaring up and away; by Gary Versace on accordion, quiet, unassertive, wonderfully atmospheric and evocative (Versace’s performance ought to be enough to challenge the prejudices of the anti-accordion school of thought); a brief wordless contribution by Luciana Souza and, finally, Charles Pillow on alto sax, strikingly radiant, buoyed up by the orchestra like a bird carried higher by the rising air. But the birds themselves have the last word. The whole thing is a remarkably successful jazz tone-poem.

All in all, a valuable collection of what is, for all my earlier mentions of Evans and Ellington, very distinctive music. It benefits from a superb recorded sound, in which every detail is audible, in which warmth and transparency are perfectly combined.

Glyn Pursglove


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