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When a jazz album is as successful as composer/arranger/conductor Maria Schneider's Concert in the Garden (ArtistShare, 2004), there's a different expectation for the followup. Winning a Grammy and being on many top ten lists can ring the death knell for a pop album, since fans expect the followup to be an even greater event. But with jazz, careers tend to be considered as a larger continuum. Some albums may be more daring than others, but there's not the same level of comparison from release to release.
Which means that following up Concert in the Garden with Days of Wine and Rosesdocumenting Schneider's longstanding orchestra in performance at New York's Jazz Standard in early 2000is a completely logical step. It's her first live recording, and given that five of the nine compositions come from other sources, it places her skill as an arranger in even sharper focus, perhaps, than it was with her own material. And it's an opportunity to hear a number of early self-penned compositions that are being released here for the first time. Strong compositions all, they nevertheless demonstrate just how much of a quantum leap Concert in the Garden represents.
It's also a tribute to David Bakerthe late engineer responsible for capturing hundreds of jazz sessions in the best possible light. Baker's ability to create a rich aural landscape on the fly is no better demonstrated than on this live recording where, direct to two-track, mixing and imaging decisions had to be made in the momentrather than how they would be handled in the context of multitrack recording, where one can experiment with different approaches over as much time as the artist can afford.
Given the economics of the jazz world, maintaining a constant devotion to a large ensemble represents a real commitment. Schneider clearly needs a large palette to express her detailed and deceptively complex arrangements. Whether on the relaxed swing of "Lately, featuring a spare solo from pianist Frank Kimbrough, or the more impressionistic "The Willow, where Scott Robinson delivers a remarkably tender baritone solo, Schneider's makes her seventeen-piece orchestra less a collection of individual parts and more an integrated whole. The horns may be sharp and brash on a liberally reworked, up-tempo arrangement of "That Old Black Magic, featuring a powerful tenor solo from Rick Margitza, but they're equally capable of lush warmth on "My Ideal, which begins as a soft ballad but ultimately picks up steam for Greg Gisbert's flugelhorn solo.
In a genre where instrumental prowess can overshadow the equally important vision of the artist who conceives the overall shape and texture of the music, the fact that so many players in Schneider's orchestra have been with her since the beginning speaks volumes. Concert in the Garden was a pinnacle, and Days of Wine and Roses serves as equally strong evidence that Schneider's name should be historically associated with other forward-thinking composer/arrangers like Gil Evans and Bob Brookmeyer, if it isn't already.
Track Listing: 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 OQuinn: trombone; Rock Ciccarone: trombone; Larry Farrell: trombone; George Flynn: bass trombone; Ben Monder: guitar; Frank Kimbrough: piano; Tony Scherr: bass; Tim Horner: drums.