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There are no liner notes in the booklet accompanying the latest release by the Maria Schneider Orchestra, but there are five candid close'ups of Schneider conducting, and another photograph on the front cover in which she is seen holding a white rose to her face. So exactly what is being promoted here? Leaving the rhetorical question unanswered, we should say that, as a whole, All'gresse, Schneider's third album for enja, represents her best recorded work to date. There are some weaknesses (almost nothing Schneider writes swings, and 'All'gresse' could be a synonym for 'ponderous' or in some cases 'wearisome'), but her compositions on this go'round are at least musically rich and frequently engaging, in spite of the tendency to drag them out until one's index finger almost unconsciously presses the CD player's 'next track' button ('Nocturne,' which drifts along for almost eight minutes, is the briefest selection; 'Dissolution,' at 20:47, the longest). Tempos are moderate ('Hang Gliding,' 'All'gresse,' 'Journey Home') to funereal ('Nocturne,' 'Dissolution,' 'Sea of Tranquility'). One thing Schneider has going for her is a world'class orchestra stocked with a number of outstanding soloists (flugel Greg Gisbert and tenor Rick Margitza on 'Hang Gliding,' pianist Frank Kimbrough on 'Nocturne,' trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and tenor Rich Perry on 'All'gresse,' soprano Tim Ries on 'Dissolution,' alto Charles Pillow and guitarist Ben Monder on 'Journey Home,' baritone Scott Robinson on 'Sea of Tranquility') who do their best to enliven every aspect of Schneider's protracted etudes. Another is the fact that her writing here is more accessible than on other occasions; there are lovely and enchanting melodies on All'gresse ('Hang Gliding' is a gem) and no unsettling dissonances whatsoever. This is 'chamber' ' we could even say 'classical' ' big'band Jazz whose emphasis is on beauty of form rather than outbursts of raw power. While such an approach is neither masculine nor femine, its most eloquent spokesperson at the moment happens to be a woman. When all is said and done, would I recommend All'gresse ? Without pause but not to those who are looking for Basie-style fireworks including thunderous bombs from the drummer or screaming shout-choruses from the brass. This is music for the thinking person, which all but assures a limited market here in the States.
Track Listing: Hang Gliding; Nocturne; All?gresse; Dissolution; Journey Home; Sea of Tranquility (71:10).
Personnel: Maria Schneider, composer, conductor; Tim Ries, soprano sax, clarinet, flute, alto flute; Charles Pillow, alto, soprano sax, clarinet, flute, piccolo, oboe, English horn; Rich Perry, tenor sax, flute; Rick Margitza, tenor, soprano sax, flute; Scott Robinson, baritone, bass sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto flute; Tony Kadleck, trumpet, flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet; Greg Gisbert, Laurie Frink, Ingrid Jensen, Dave Ballou, trumpet, flugelhorn; Keith O?Quinn, Rock Ciccarone, Larry Farrell, trombone; George Flynn, bass trombone, tuba; Ben Monder, acoustic, electric guitar; Frank Kimbrough, piano; Tony Scherr, acoustic, electric bass; Tim Horner, drums; Jeff Ballard, percussion.