by Jeff Krow

Beyond categorizations...simply sublime...

You don’t listen to CDs from the Maria Schneider. You “experience” them. Much like the orchestral jazz of Bob Brookmeyer, it is hard to categorize Maria’s intense, sublime compositions. A close enough description is that they are a hybrid bridging classical, world folk, and jazz. Their beauty to me combines Aaron Copland’s classical Americana with the best of big band jazz.

The theme of The Thompson Fields is her love and appreciation for her childhood home in rural southwest Minnesota. Inspired by the landscape and the flora and fauna of the area, Maria composed the eight tracks on this CD. An added bonus to the exquisite music is the 70 page book that holds the CD. There are gorgeous photographs of the farm area, as well as Audubon paintings of the native birds. Maria gives extensive descriptions of each track and her inspiration for the music within.

The opening track, “Walking by Flashlight” features an achingly beautiful alto clarinet solo by Scott Robinson. The composition was inspired by poet, Ted Kooser’s “Winter Morning Walks.?? Frank Kimbrough’s piano blends with clarinet to transform the listener to a reverie that takes you to a prairie field with a soft wind blowing the reeds. “The Monarch and the Milkweed” is dedicated to the monarch butterfly’s attraction to the native milkweed plant as a place to lay her eggs. Marshall Gilkes and Greg Gisbert solo on trombone and Flugelhorn, and their burnished brass increases in intensity as the track progresses spurred on by Clarence Penn’s drumming.

Maria’s love for birds takes us temporarily out of the heartland to New Guinea where the live rituals of the birds-of-paradise bring fascination on “Arbiters of Evolution.” The full orchestra’s powers are harnessed here. Donny McCaslin on tenor and Scott Robinson, now on tenor, take lead. We’re in full jazz mode here. The title track follows and guitarist Lage Lund opens with a guitar solo that calms and inspires. It brought to mind for me the mood that Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden elicit on their duo work, but here supported by woodwinds and brass, and the piano (of Frank Kimbrough).

The concept of “home” is explored on a composition with the same name. Maria honors the jazz impresario, George Wein, whose Newport Jazz Festival is one of the longest tenured jazz festivals in the world. Maria had the premiere of “Home” debuted at Newport. Rich Perry’s tenor sax solo is striking, and sets a mood that combines both melancholy and joy.

“Nimbus” has as its inspiration the Midwestern landscape that can be bleak and drab, but capable of dramatic weather changes that elicit awe. Steve Wilson on alto sax, digs in and blows with an intensity of an F2 tornado. “A Potter’s Song” is dedicated to trumpeter, Laurie Frink, a long term member of the orchestra, who passed away from cancer in 2013. In addition to her trumpet skills, Schneider also greatly admired her skills as a potter. Gary Versace, who has brought the accordion front and center back into jazz as a lead instrument, adds a “gypsy” quality to the track before Keith O’Quinn on trombone makes a tender entrance. Versace returns and takes the melody out.

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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