Lush harmonies evoking a sense of romance and dynamic rhythms alluding to dance abound on composer/arranger Maria Schneider's Concert in the Garden. She assuredly guides her 17-piece band through cinematic compositions that would feel at home in a Golden Age Hollywood epic. Schneider is more interested in exploring the melodic, harmonic and textural possibilities the instrumentation allows than flexing its power. Never shrill, from a whisper to nearly a roar, the ensemble employs dynamic range for dramatic impact, as featured soloists serve the compositions by relating part of the story.
The title track opens with sparse dialogue between pianist Frank Kimbrough and guest accordionist Gary Versace, before Luciana Souza's wordless vocals and the orchestra add emphasis and fill out the theme. Guitarist Ben Monder's cleanly phrased solo breaks things up, until the dynamics hush for another piano-accordion exchange, spurred at the end by drummer Clarence Penn. "Choro Dancado" exudes its Brazilian-inspired, syncopated rhythms and the sweeping harmonic movements develop into counterpoint melodies behind tenor saxophonist Rich Perry's solo. On "Pas De Deux," Ingrid Jensen's flugelhorn exchanges, and matches, phrases with soprano saxophonist Charles Pillow over a mysterious vibe created by the swelling orchestra. "Buleria, Solea, Y Rumba" explores quiet dynamics for a mournful tenor solo from Donny McCaslin, befitting the piece's mood. But as the pace quickens, so does McCaslin, for a rapid staccato unison line, which melts away until the composition rebuilds behind Greg Gisbert's flugelhorn.
The nearly flawless playing on Concert in the Garden is impressive, especially from a 17- piece group (plus guests) not afforded extensive performance or rehearsal time. It attests to Schneider's ability to notate for the large group and coax performances that serve her intent. Although the accomplished performances lack edginess and surprise, listening to the ensemble execute with such precision is a reward of its own.
Track Listing: Concert in the Garden, Three Romances: part 1--Choro Dancado; part 2--Pas De Deux; part 3--Danca Ilusoria; Buleria, Solea Y Rumba
Personnel: Tim Ries, Charles Pillow, Rich Perry, Donny McCaslin, Scott Robinson--reeds; Tony Kadleck, Greg Gisbert, Laurie Frink, Ingrid Jensen--trumpet and fluegelhorn; Keith O'Quinn, Rock Ciccarone, Larry Farrell, Pete McGuinness--trombone; George Flynn--bass trombone and contrabass trombone; Ben Monder--guitar; Frank Kimbrough--piano; Jay Anderson--bass; Clarenece Penn--drums; Jeff Ballard--cajon and quinto cajon; Gonzalo Grau--cajon; Gary Versace--accordion; Luciana Sousa--voice, Andy Middleton--tenor sax