|4/27/2015 12:00:55 AM - Legend has it that a girl from Windom, in the agrarian depths of Minnesota, conquered territories banned to her human nature. They claimed that Maria Schneider, the name by which that little girl still goes by, had the ability to fly and make everyone in her domains do so. Many say that it is from above, where they were shown the truths revealed from her acrobatics. Others insist on staying grounded, as if they need to cling to the earth so as to catch a glimpse of what they are capable of when Maria Schneider starts her walk. But what they would never doubt is that with Schneider, everything seems possible. But legend never had it that she could dance as well.|
Wisely enough, those responsible for setting up the 43th Barcelona Voll-Damm International Jazz Festival wanted to make the legend bigger, awarding Schneider with the festival's Gold Medal, the fourth after Bebo Valdés, Wayne Shorter and Sonny Rollins). It's important to realize that her orchestra, conducted by the composer/arranger, is considered one of the best on the planet. Quid pro quo, Schneider confessed that she was in her favorite city and her top choice venue, after a great experience back in 2003 leading the Danish Radio Big Band together with singer Ivan Lins and harmonicist Toots Thielemans. Her 2011 show was to be the first she would share with her own orchestra, with whom she gave a panoramic concert at the festival's request, having performed with her band on two past occasions, but never at the Palau. The compositions that made her the best orchestrator worldwide came down, one after another.
The night started with "Green Piece," from Evanescence, Enja, 1994, a nearly programmatic composition that foreshadowed what would come after. An abbreviated story of the dissolution of swing, with her band members elastically playing with the limits of what is jazz, multifaceted baritone saxophonist Scott Robinson was outstanding, recalling the great Serge Chaloff. Tenor saxophonist Rich Perry also made a good point, when the issue was whether or not Schneider could give her collaborators the necessary freedom, providing such moments in Duke Ellington's "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue" or Grant Green's "Idle Moments." Here, the magic came from the spontaneous, not from what was written—from the instinct to sense prodigy forged without notice.
Maria Schneider's music was otherwordly. She used her jazz orchestra to build a personal outlook on the world, whether it was Gil Evans or Maurice Ravel in the shadow, since the goal was the flight, not the means. The journey reached Rio de Janeiro, attacking romance with "Choro Dançado," from Concert in the Garden (ArtistShare, 2004), and the new, as-yet-unreleased "Lembrança," which looked back at Schneider's Brazilian experiences vwith Paulo Moura. The two artists share the conviction that it's the music that helps you live and get by which really matters. Gary Versace's accordion solos (soon to appear in Barcelona, on piano, with singer Madeleine Peyroux) were essential components to Schneider's orchestra.
With the festival supporting a revision of Schneider's repertoire, it was time for "Gumba Blue," an orthodox return to jazz roots, to the genre's earthly cradle, also found in Evanescence. The occasion gave way to a magnificent display by trombonists Ryan Keberle and Bart van Lier, each faithful to their own style yet both festive, as the music demanded. The surprising "Thompson Fields" came halfway through the show, unreleased theme for the evening, making it clear that beauty can be around the most unexpected corner. The piece stemmed from Schneider's American sources, but headed towards the realms of eeriness, of ethereal territories, of vast terrains and blinding light. Her childhood memories in Minnesota brought the piece close to singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell's Travelogue (Nonesuch, 2002), broadening the connection to Charlie Haden's Beyond the Missouri Sky (Verve, 1997), with guitarist Pat Metheny, paired with the bassist's American Dreams (Gitanes, 2002). There was even the elongated and melancholic shadow that singer/songwriter Randy Newman stamped on his soundtrack to the 1984 film, The Natural.
As for the soloists, it was a given that Ben Monder would be grand, but his performance will undoubtedly become a part of the festival's history. It only lasted for a few minutes, but it was clear what Maria Schneider meant to tell through him. Likewise, Frank Kimbrough knew how to interpret the composer's intentions brilliantly.
Opening an official jazz festival with such quality is somewhat risky, but there are advantages too, like keeping expectations high or setting imagination (and the sponsors' investment) as the only limit. Saxophonist Donny McCaslin, who made excellence a more humble value than a pair of old slippers, opened up and put the accents on "Hang Gliding," from Allegresse (Enja/Justin Time, 2000).
The concert came to an end, with the encore—the title track to Sky Blue (ArtistShare, 2007)—featuring soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson's display, and the musical echoes of Alan Menken, closing a show in which there was no doubt that a declaration of intent, where life itself was the biggest bet, was being made.
Can a performance become a moral issue? The answer is yes if it is understood that, thanks to music, good prevails over evil. Maybe it's time to consider whether programming music as powerful as that of Maria Schneider and her orchestra can be crucial for the destiny of mankind. Two hours are enough to confirm the theory of chaos; the flight of a butterfly can trigger hurricanes. And the award- winning bandleader likes flying, recreating, with soundscapes, the geographic landscapes to turn them into vital experiences, whether in Minnesota, Rio or Barcelona.
While it was clear that she could fly with her music, what could never be imagined was that Schneider could dance, too. Schneider's gestures onstage were pure choreography, as her musicians well know, reacting to her slightest movement. Indeed, a photograph of ballerina Sylvie Guillem is placed prominently in her office.
From now on, legend will have it that an angel danced at the Palau, moved her wings, and somewhere some terrorists put down their weapons and a dictator found his end in the same fateful way as those had suffered his despotic rule. That Maria Schneider governs her orchestra is undeniable, and it is her way to command what brings about such great results. It is not only a music lesson but a way of life. What a lucky night that was.
| ALL ABOUT JAZZ-- Enrique Turpin Photo credit: Lorenzo Di Nozzi|
|[Winter Morning Walks] ***** (five stars) "I regard this album as the most important set of song cycles since Andre Previn's 'Honey and Rue' and Peter Lieberson's 'Neruda Songs–and that is exceptionally high praise ... This is a phenomenal recording. Enough said."|
-- AUDIOPHILE AUDITION - STEVEN RITTER
|'Winter Morning Walks' -- "Lyrical, flowing, intimately expressive, with all the elements of words, music, voice and instruments in a seamless blend, this is music to fall in love with the first time — then immediately want to hear again. "|
-- NEW ENGLAND PUBLIC RADIO -- John Montanari
|"[Winter Morning Walks] is a sterling standard for American art song."|
-- SAN FRANCISCO CLASSICAL VOICE -- Jeff Kaliss
|'Winter Morning Walks' -- "hauntingly beautiful"|
-- NPR's "ALL SONGS CONSIDERED"
|"Led by its visionary composer, the remarkable Maria Schneider Orchestra made its Detroit debut Sunday afternoon, performing her exquisitely orchestrated, walking-on-air compositions with passion, nuance and unanimity of thought and feeling. The sheer elation of the music was profoundly moving."|
-- FREEP.COM -- Mark Stryker
|"From the lustrous opening chords of a Maria Schneider concert, you can feel you are swept off your feet and falling through space - but with the certainty that someone with a lot of emotional intelligence is there to catch you."|
-- THE GUARDIAN -- JOHN FORDHAM
| "...she puts together stories that speak with the clarity of Ernest Hemingway and the musical grace of Aaron Copland."|
-- PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW -- Bob Karlovits
|“Maria Schneider’s orchestral jazz is about feeling. Like Wayne Shorter, she somehow expresses compassion through tones.”|
-- NEW YORK TIMES -- Ben Ratliff
|"She now has become entrenched among the ranks of America's leading composers. ... For Schneider, the question is no longer whether she can sustain the heights she has attained on earlier recordings; it is now how far her musical journey will take her."|
-- DOWNBEAT***** -- James Hale
|“To call Schneider the most important woman in jazz is missing the point two ways. She is a major composer–period.” – TIME MAGAZINE|
-- TIME MAGAZINE -- Terry Teachout
|"Twenty-one musicians of tremendous technical sophistication and emotional energy channel their talents through the direction of the most significant big-band jazz composer of our time."|
-- CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR -- Norman Weinstein
|"It seemed impossible for Schneider top her Grammy-winning Concert in the Garden, but she's done just that with Sky Blue. She has elevated her music to a seemingly impossible height. ... Cerulean Skies” is the masterpiece within a masterpiece, ... Magnificent. A magical work of art, from beginning to end."|
-- ALL ABOUT JAZZ -- Dan McClenaghan
|"Blue, as in "Sky Blue" and "Cerulean Skies," reflects the young colorist's Picasso-like "blue period." Like the symbolic overtones associated with the color itself, Schneider's luminous, azure odes are imbued with mystery and serenity, beauty and truth."|
-- HARTFORD COURANT -- Owen McNally
|"What she does, across the five elegant tracks of Sky Blue, is to create new strands of melody - finely crafted yet tough as steel cable - set within orchestrations that are richly detailed and unhurried, lush but never schmaltzy."|
-- THE GUARDIAN -- John L Walters
|"Plan on wearing out this album [Sky Blue], because you will want to keep listening for deeper insights. All those little digits will eventually get their edges worn off from being played so often."|
-- TUCSON CITIZEN -- Chuck Graham
|"Sky Blue is an album of remarkable depth and beauty—an expansive, imagery laden experience, from an artist who’s ready to be considered in the same breath as those who’ve been so important to her own development."|
-- ALL ABOUT JAZZ -- John Kelman
|"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."|
-- ALL ABOUT JAZZ - Jack Bowers
|"The disc [Sky Blue] is by far her most ambitious. It is also much more than your father's big band jazz dressed up with classical flourishes. It is integrated, orchestral, composed with specific musicians in mind and among the most arresting, accomplished music of the new century."|
-- THE OTTAWA CITIZEN -- Doug Fischer
|"The best album of 2004, by a wide margin, was Maria Schneider's Concert in the Garden (ArtistShare). Critics need to be careful not to mistake taste for trend, so I'm not sure how much to make of it that both this and Wayne Shorter's Alégria, my favorite from 2003, are Spanish-tinged. But this is unmistakably a step ahead for Schneider, whose voicings are as pellucid as any by her mentor Gil Evans, and whose touch, like Ellington's, is evident even in her sidemen's improvised solos."|
-- VILLAGE VOICE -- Francis Davis
|Let's cut to the chase: I LOVE THIS ALBUM. This is the most lush, lovely collection of music my ears have indulged in for quite some time. There's gorgeous writing; inventive, original, and captivating arranging, and a sympathetic cast of soloists and players.|
-- Jack Skowron -- THE AUDIOPHILE VOICE
|"Schneider brought her Jazz Orchestra to Disney Concert Hall on Wednesday with a program defining her unique style, its multiple pleasures, and its importance to contemporary jazz. …Schneider led her ensemble with graceful gestures, the subtleties of her conducting movements clearly bringing extraordinary layers of dynamic intensity to the performance. Like the music of her most obvious predecessors -- Duke Ellington and Gil Evans -- Schneider's reaches toward a significant new level of imagination, making hers the first truly novel approach to big jazz band composition of the new century."|
LA TIMES: Don Heckman
-- LA TIMES: DOn Heckman
|"Maria Schneider is both painter and aural poet..."|
-- ALL ABOUT JAZZ -- R.J. DeLuke (Troy, NY Concert)
|"With her third album, Allegresse, Schneider... has painted her masterpiece. ...This very well could be the finest jazz album of the year..."|
-- BILLBOARD MAGAZINE
|"If anyone is passing out awards for new American music, he should consider composer Maria Schneider."|
-- THE NEWS AND OBSERVER (Raleigh, NC)
|"Schneider has clearly learned Lester Young's gentle advice for those mining the Jazz tradition: 'You got to be original, man.'"|