Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Maria Schneider Orchestra: The Thompson Fields (2015)

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Maria Schneider Orchestra: The Thompson Fields
At the time Maria Schneider released Evanescence (Enja, 1994), big band jazz—especially in the US—was overly predictable and indecisively hanging on like ballroom music in a ghost town. Schneider, while embracing the best practices of earlier legendary big band leaders and her mentors, Gil Evans and Bob Brookmeyer, had added unconventional elements to her own compositions. With each release she has become more of an avant-garde impressionist capturing the beauty and sadness of a nomadic soul wandering through what was once home.

Along with a GRAMMY for Best Classical Contemporary Composition, Schneider seems to have walked away from Winter Morning Walks (ArtistShare, 2013) carrying with her a deeper appreciation for classical music. In that regard The Thompson Fields has a broader scope and a more purely orchestral feel than Schneider's last MSO release, Sky Blue (ArtistShare, 2007). Where threads of melodies were often created and expertly knitted together on the previous release, The Thompson Fields centers more on longer, fluent refrains. Though the themes may be extended and unhurried they still communicate Schneider's narratives on ruminating conflict and wistfulness.

Clarinetist Scott Robinson
—augmented by Frank Kimbrough's piano—bring to life the opening "Walking by Flashlight." The latter stages of "The Monarch and the Milkweed" are gently held together by Lage Lund's guitar as he stands up to the more powerful horns of Marshall Gilkes and Greg Gisbert keeping the whole piece floating as so many of Schneider's compositions do. "Arbiters of Evolution" settles on flight, a favorite subject of Schneider's and opening solo space for Robinson (now on baritone sax) and the superb Donny McCaslin on tenor. The very personal title track carries Minnesota winds over the farm fields of Schneider's youth while three of the remaining four compositions are dedications. "Home," "A Potter's Song" and "Lembranca" are tributes to Newport Jazz Festival founder, George Wein, the late Laurie Frink of Schneider's orchestra and Brazilian musician Paulo Moura, respectively.

There are many fine solos throughout The Thompson Fields as one would expect. Saxophonists Rich Perry
and Steve Wilson deliver stand out performances as does accordionist Gary Versaceorgan, Hammond B3 on "A Potter's Song." This album—more than any of Schneider's work—generates especially lucid emotions and should appeal to listeners across a relatively broad audience even outside of the jazz world. We can only hope that the Maria Schneider Orchestra continues to be as productive and inventive as it has been for the past twenty years.
 
Track Listing: Walking By Flashlight; The Monarch And The Milkweed; Arbiters Of Evolution; The Thompson Fields; Home; Nimbus; A Potter's Song; Lembranca.

Personnel: Steve Wilson: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet, flute, alto flute; Dave Pietro: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet, flute, alto flute, bass flute, piccolo; Rich Perry: tenor saxophone; Donny McCaslin: tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute; Scott Robinson: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, alto clarinet, clarinet; Tony Kadleck: trumpet, fluegelhorn; Greg Gisbert: trumpet, fluegelhorn; Augie Haas: trumpet, fluegelhorn; Mike Rodriguez: trumpet, fluegelhorn; Keith O'Quinn,: trombone; Ryan Keberle: trombone; Marshall Gilkes: trombone; George Flynn: bass trombone; Gary Versace: accordion; Lage Lund: guitar; Frank Kimbrough: piano; Rogerio Boccato: percussion (8); Clarence Penn: drums; Jay Anderson: bass.
Record Label: ArtistShare

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