Jack Bowers All About Jazz -- Sky Blue Review
If you are fond of lovely music, and are able to look beyond categories and labels to unmask its allure, chances are you’ll fall head-over-heels in love with Sky Blue, composer/arranger Maria Schneider’s sixth album and third for ArtistShare. Having studied with Bob Brookmeyer and the late Gil Evans, and strived earlier in her career to emulate their style and temperament, Schneider has of late begun listening more to her own heart and composing music that is not only surpassingly beautiful but explicitly personal and honest.
Is it jazz? In a manner of speaking, yes. There is a rhythmic pulse, albeit sometimes weak, and improvisation, even though it is now and then difficult to ascertain where the written score ends and improvisation begins. But Schneider’s music, although conceived for and performed by a conventional big band, transcends the limitations of genre and stereotype, embodying elements of jazz within a more decorous classical structure that would not be out of place in almost any concert setting. Like many classical composers, Schneider writes thematically, and much like Duke Ellington, she often develops her essays with a specific musician (or musicians) in mind. On Sky Blue, she has designed congenial showcases for trumpeter Ingrid Jensen (“The ‘Pretty’ Road”), clarinetist Scott Robinson (“Aires de Lando”), tenor saxophonist Rich Perry (“Rich’s Piece”) and soprano Steve Wilson (“Sky Blue”).
“Cerulean Skies,” the album’s most ambitious portrait (and the longest, at more than twenty-one minutes), features tenor Donny McCaslin, accordionist Gary Versace, alto Charles Pillow, a variety of bird calls by members of the ensemble, and four more (at the very end) by the elusive and seldom-heard cerulean warbler. It represents the sights and sounds Schneider has experienced in “[her] forest,” New York City’s Central Park, especially the arrival each spring of millions of birds who fill the air with color and song. “The ‘Pretty’ Road” invokes Schneider’s romantic memories of a highway leading to her hometown in rural Minnesota, “Aires de Lando” her introduction two years ago to the often mystifying sounds and rhythms of Peruvian music, while “Sky Blue” depicts the love and emotions that enfolded the passing of a dear friend, Kate Sullivan, and validates a faith in something higher and more permanent that eclipses one’s evanescent earthly existence.
Thanks to engineer Joe Ferla, the sound on Sky Blue is as charming as the music. “What is most personal,” Schneider affirms, “can also be what is most universal.” Sky Blue is an intimate statement that speaks openly to everyone who appreciates exemplary music.
“Data Lords” . . . is her magnum opus, a riveting, remarkably intense double album, as profound as modern-day instrumental music gets. Link to article- MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE – Jon Bream
Now it's finally here, in the form of a magnificent double album, Data Lords . . . it parses into thematic halves, "The Digital World" and, as an antidote, "The Natural World." On the whole and in the details, it amounts to the most daring work of Schneider's career, which sets the bar imposingly high. This is music of extravagant mastery, and it comes imbued with a spirit of risk. Link to article- NPR.com – Nate Chinen
“The Digital World” emerges as her manifesto against everything that limits the expressive range of the human spirit. “The Natural World” becomes a summarizing afterword in Schneider’s musical autobiography that illustrates the natural forces that keep her creative compass pointing true north. Link to article- The Arts Fuse –– Allen Michie
Data Lords: Schneider’s craft and judgment are such that music in the eerie, dystopian world has the marvellous feeling for structure, pacing and often sheer beauty that listeners who know Schneider’s music will be expecting. . . .
There are instrumental glories throughout this album, but the work of the low brass both as section and as individuals is quite unbelievable and is caught exceptionally well on the recording. Whereas Wagner once said “don’t look at the trombones, it only encourages them", I had the sense that Maria Schneider must keep looking at the trombones a lot. And they certainly deliver here. Link to article- TheArtsDesk.com – Sebastian Scotney
With Data Lords – a steeliness and even bleakness now shares a stage with her familiar pastoral side. . . . The inner tensions behind this compelling session promise a revealing new phase in Schneider's remarkable work. Link to article- THE GUARDIAN – John Fordham
Beyond the dualism in its format, Data Lords is a work of holistic creativity. The music of outrage and critique in the first album has all the emotion and conceptual integrity that the music of melancholy and reverence does in the second. I can’t conceive of anyone else creating this music, unless Delius has been writing with Bowie on the other side. Link to article- THE NATION – David Hajdu
Data Lords: Disc One offers highly imaginative, revelatory, at times breathtaking music as in the title track. . . . Expect this project, at a minimum, to be a Grammy contender with perhaps historic recognition in the wings at some point. Link to article
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 BUFFALO NEWS – Jeff Simon
Maria Schneider wanted to send a strong message about the threat of a mass manipulation of humanity with Data Lords. Through her high standard for meticulous composing and arranging, delivered by some of jazz’s best musicians, she gets the message across in perhaps the grandest way possible.- SomethingElseReviews.com – S. Victor Aaron
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."
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."- OTTAWA CITIZEN – Peter Hum
"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."
"Maria Schneider is a national treasure."