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Extended Analysis

Maria Schneider Orchestra: Days of Wine and Roses - Live at the Jazz Standard

By Published: January 29, 2006
Maria Schneider Orchestra
Days of Wine and Roses - Live at the Jazz Standard

Originally released in a limited edition—boxed with two bottles of Riesling wine—the reissue of this unique CD is a welcome event for fans of Maria Schneider. There's no wine this time but it still includes a fascinating taste of her older arrangements. There are three that reach back more than twenty years to her studies at the Eastman School of Music: the originals: "Bird Count and "Last Season, and her chart of the standard "My Ideal.

Her composition "Lately dates from 1987 and was originally intended for Mel Lewis but never submitted to his orchestra. "'The Willow' was written as a dedication of love and gratitude to Mel, according to Schneider's notes. Her close friend and teacher Bob Brookmeyer commissioned the arrangements of "That Old Black Magic and "Over the Rainbow for a project with the Cologne Radio Orchestra. Ivan Lins' "Começar de Novo and the title selection come from a 1994 collaboration with Toots Thielemans and the Norrbotten Big Band.

"This album is like a double-exposed photograph, she writes in the liner notes, referring to the pre-Orchestra arrangements from the 1980s through the 1990s juxtaposed with the late January 2000 edition of her own large ensemble, recorded live to two-track at the Jazz Standard by the brilliant engineer David Baker. Days of Wine and Roses is dedicated to Baker, who recently passed away. He also co-produced the recording with Schneider. The magnificent sonic clarity, depth and definition serve as a fitting remembrance of his loving attention to detail and keen hearing; he was likely the premier recording engineer of his time.

The Maria Schneider Orchestra's previous recordings tended to concentrate primarily on a diaphanous quality in the writing, leading many commentators to pigeonhole her as a colorist, an orchestral impressionist akin to Gil Evans, with whom she apprenticed and to whom Evanescence was dedicated. Days of Wine and Roses demonstrates conclusively that this is but one facet of her talents as a composer, arranger and orchestrator. "Lately is a relaxed yet propulsive swinger in a latter-day Basie groove that would have been right at home in the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra book. The bustling "Bird Count brings the Charles Mingus of "Gunslinging Bird to mind, as well as its namesake Charlie Parker, with preaching reeds plus testifying trumpets and trombones massing in gospel-esque fervor.

It might be said that the arrangements are the true "stars of this organization, but there are some beautifully conceived and fully formed solos as well. One that must be singled out is Scott Robinson's baritone saxophone tour de force on "The Willow. A portion of this tenderly limned melody bears a fleeting resemblance to Duke Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss, and a similar mood is evoked as well. The baritone solo begins in pensive pastels, lightly burred at times, with pianist Frank Kimbrough's gently probing accompaniment and the stirring brushes of drummer Tim Horner.

Schneider's arrangement gradually brings in the other horns, building the dynamic level, and Robinson rises with them, an eagle riding a thermal, judiciously applying split tones and a range from the bottom of the horn to the near-falsetto register. He flies up and "out without losing sight of the ground then gradually glides back down, meshing mesmerizingly with the orchestration. It's a dramatic performance, ranging from tenderness to passion and back again. The title is certainly an apt one. Like a willow, this composition, arrangement and interpretation have a tensile strength that nonetheless bends with the breeze, never brittle and unyielding, always motile and mutable.

"Last Season is a fetching miniature, performed as a solo piano reflection by Frank Kimbrough, which segues seamlessly to the saudade orchestral intro of "Começar de Novo. Soprano saxophonist Tim Ries is the featured soloist on this piece, which is a gorgeous ballad rather than a bossa nova or samba despite its Brazilian pedigree.

Rick Margitza takes "That Old Black Magic at a brisk pace, the chart buoying along a fleet tenor saxophone solo with some particularly pungent lower brass exclamation points. Greg Gisbert's mellifluous flugelhorn is showcased on "My Ideal, which opens and closes as a ballad with a lightly swinging medium-tempo portion at the midpoint. "Days of Wine and Roses is transformed from an evocation of cocktail lounge ennui to an up-tempo romp in this arrangement, with solos from Ries—whose soprano tone is here a touch too austere for my taste—and Rich Perry on tenor.

Schneider's rhapsodic chart of "Over the Rainbow is graced with an eloquent solo by alto saxophonist Charles Pillow, who has some of the spicy snap of latter-day Art Pepper in his sound and ideas here. Pepper also recorded a nakedly emotional interpretation of this classic Harold Arlen melody. The closing "Bird Count has a string of solos, with Frank Kimbrough on piano and Ingrid Jensen on trumpet the standouts. It's too bad that there isn't more of Jensen's solo work on the program; she is a superb player.

In the five-plus years since Days of Wine and Roses was recorded there have been a few changes of personnel in the orchestra, but the majority of musicians (thirteen by my count) are the same as on 2004's Concert in the Garden. Pianist Frank Kimbrough is one of the constants, as is guitarist Ben Monder. Although the latter doesn't solo in this program, he is an essential part of the rhythm section, while the former is a marvelously incisive, expressive soloist and one of the leading accompanists in the business. The continuity and cohesion of the ensemble are exemplary.

Days of Wine and Roses presents a snapshot of the 2000 edition of the Maria Schneider Orchestra in performance, and it's a gladly received document of another side—or perhaps one should say other sides—of her estimable talents.

This recording is available only through Maria Schneider on the web.

Tracks: Lately; The Willow; That Old Black Magic; My Ideal; Last Season; Começar de Novo; Days of Wine and Roses; Over the Rainbow; Bird Count.

Personnel: Maria Schneider: composer, arranger, conductor; Tim Ries: alto and soprano saxophone, clarinet, flute; Charles Pillow: alto and soprano saxophone, clarinet, flute; Rich Perry: tenor saxophone, flute; Rick Margitza: tenor saxophone, flute; Scott Robinson: bass and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet, clarinet, flute; Tony Kadleck: trumpet, flugelhorn; Greg Gisbert: trumpet, flugelhorn; Laurie Frink: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ingrid Jensen: trumpet, flugelhorn; Keith O'Quinn: trombone; Rock Ciccarone: trombone; Larry Farrell: trombone; George Flynn: bass trombone; Ben Monder: guitar; Frank Kimbrough: piano; Tony Scherr: bass; Tim Horner: drums.

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