by Jeff Kaliss

I first heard Maria Schneider when she was conducting her commissioned composition at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1995. I later attended her press conference there. "I love to be told stories, and I love to tell stories, " she told the adoring media. "And I love to engage with people. "

Those sentiments, apparent in her "Scenes From Childhood' back then, are on display again in the latest release in her double-Grammy-winning career. She’s bolstered this time around by two sets of lyrics drawn from two different poets, Nebraskan Ted Kooser and Brazilian Carlos Drummond de Andrade (as translated into English by Mark Strand). Working with lyrics is a first for Schneider, as are her collaborations here with a classical soprano, Dawn Upshaw, and with two major classical ensembles, the Australian Chamber Orchestra (for Kooser’s Winter Morning Walks) and The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra from her native Minnesota (for Drummond’s Stories). She seems to have successfully engaged all parties involved with the realization of the album, and listeners with a love for orchestral evocation will likewise be captivated.

Kooser wrote the nine poems selected for Winter Morning Walks while he was working a successful recovery from cancer. Schneider proves an artisan in marrying melody to words, as in her tonic-dominant setting of the “side to side” swing of a flashlight in the early dawn. She also masters the colors of her strings and the rhythm and pacing of her ensemble and soloists to set affecting scenes of Great Plains naturescapes and domesticity. Upshaw delivers the evocative poems in a voice as clear and bright as the described “solstice morning, in bone-cracking cold.” The soprano divests herself of the inappropriate aspects of classical training, instead bringing the composer’s music across in the contemporary, talky style of Broadway, but with a rarely heard elevation of purity and heart. This is a sterling standard for American art song.

Having displayed an impressive variety of musical forms with the Kooser poems, from lushly romantic to quietly contemplative to quasi-atonal, following the poet’s different moods and subject matter, Schneider manifests a credible and affecting Latin American and Iberian tinge throughout the five tracks of the Drummond material. The Prologue, in fact, functions as a lovely homage to Heitor Villa-Lobos’ beloved Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, entrancing vocalese included. Schneider dresses the lovelorn Don’t Kill Yourself in flamenco harmonies and buleria rhythms, while the Quadrille evokes a Piazzolla chamber setting, allowing for individual displays of string virtuosity by the Saint Paul ensemble. Upshaw’s passion and prettiness shine through all of this.

In that jazz setting more than 17 years ago, Schneider had voiced her wish “to be called an American composer.” With this offering, she’s more than earned the respect and appreciation of the best who claim membership in that group.

-- Jeff Kaliss

Press quotes

The Thompson Fields:  “... this magnificent, nature-drunk masterpiece, one of the great jazz records period, not just one of the great recent jazz records.”


The Thompson Fields: ***** "...there is nobody more capable of harnessing emotions in music and projecting and preserving the beauty and power of the natural world in sound than Maria Schneider. She's demonstrated that time and again, and she does it once more on this awe-inspiring release."

- ALL ABOUT JAZZ – Dan Bilawsky

The Thompson Fields:  "This marriage of sounds, words and images is ultimately breathtaking, a testament not simply to the hipness of jazz but to the uplifting and sustaining powers of art."


"The Thompson Fields breaks through to a new level. It's her most ambitious recording, and her most accomplished; it places her in the pantheon of big-band composer-leaders, just below Ellington, Strayhorn, and Gil Evans at his very best; it's a masterpiece"

- STEREOPHILE – Fred Kaplan

The Thompson Fields ***** (five stars)  "Her latest album, some 10 years in the making, shows just what a supple and powerful instrument a jazz orchestra can be."

- THE TELEGRAPH – Ivan Hewett

The Thompson Fields: ***** (five stars) "...a sound-world of rare eloquence ... the singularly most beautiful record I've heard this year."

- – Peter Quinn

"Maria Schneider is a national treasure."


The Thompson Fields: "... a masterpiece ... Schneider's lovely themes are immediately accessible, but this is also music whose intricate arrangements reveal new discoveries on repeated listening."


"The Thompson Fields is a testament to the ever-evolving talent of Maria Schneider."


"The Thomson Fields may be her finest triumph in a stellar career as a jazz orchestra leader, composer/arranger and conceptualist. No one in jazz today, or at least in big band jazz, writes in such evocative fashion. Five stars - and then some."

- Ken Franckling's Jazz Notes – Ken Franckling

"The Maria Schneider Orchestra's ravishing new recording, The Thompson Fields, demonstrates her evolving vision for the evocative and deep nuances of sonic beauty that her music now radiates."


The Thompson Fields (*****five stars)
"...when the artistic offerings competing for our entertainment dollars and attention are vast compared to the days of five television channels and a handful of records labels, one artist has risen—in terms of talent and the beauty and perfection of her recent output—to an Ellington-ian level: Composer/arranger Maria Schneider."

- ALL ABOUT JAZZ – Dan McClenaghan

"If you are able to cry over a piece of music. The Thompson Fields will make you cry."

- STEREOPHILE (Recording of the Month) – Thomas Conrad

"The Maria Schneider Orchestra: Led by Ms. Schneider, a composer and orchestrator of penetrating insight, this group has an ambitiously realized new album – "The Thompson Fields," its first release in eight years – that underscores its stature as the pre-eminent large ensemble of our time."

- THE NEW YORK TIMES - Nate Chinen

"The Thompson Fields" ***** (five-stars) "Heartening jazz suite that's too good to miss" 

- THE GUARDIAN – John Fordham