Maria Baptist and big bands go way back. From a lifelong fascination with orchestras to several large-ensemble collaborations and academic competitions from the '90s onward, she's always been drawn to handling impressive quantities of brass. Whatever else she gets up toand there's certainly no shortage of other different projects to keep rotating amongher Jazz Orchestra stays working in the background throughout. This ensemble has steadily performed in Berlin each month since 2015. Three years on from the first Here & Now (self produced, 2016), some of the personnel might have changed, but Baptist's endlessly sharp skills as composer only continue to grow.
There's something of an autobiographical thread through Here & Now 2 as it touches on the different facets of her musical personality. The key influence of Leonard Bernstein comes out with plenty of golden-age-of-Broadway swing; her flowing piano lines have the timeless charm of Dave Brubeck and Bill Evans while the well-constructed arrangements assemble many instrumental pieces with Gil Evans-like smarts. Themes of mindfulness and meditation have been a key element as well, as the beautiful solo recital Resonance (self-produced, 2018) showed with intimate eloquence. This affair is much busier with sixteen players in the mix, but pieces like "Nature of Reality" and "As Long as We Are Searching For" are still built with an ear for melodic simplicity and trance that sometimes borders on mantric.
The central "Midnight Suite" here might be Baptist's most extensive single work yet. At first it defies the late-night connotation of the title with a Latin-tinged dance; different sections then drift into classy swing or late-night quietude instead. Several colorful solos from different players are woven throughout the piece, making components just as important as the ensemble's unison riffs or the anchoring hits from the rhythm section. The last movement rearranges an older piece called "Midnight Rain," originally recorded with a trio, but now gliding on cascading waves of horn that build to a triumphant finish.
Baptist's keys never quite stand out in the end, but weave through it all like threads joining the pieces of a quilt. This outing is more about the whole than any individual part anyway, and on that level it's a fascinating work indeed. We can all use more reminders that everything important is here and now, and this is a finely-crafted way to enjoy the present moment in style.
Nature of Reality; Midnight Suite #1; Midnight Suite #2; Midnight Suite #3; Midnight Suite #4; As Long as We Are Searching For; Sign of the Zodiac.
Maria Baptist: piano; Fabian Timm: bass; Heinz Lichius: drums; David Beecroft: soprano and alto saxophone; Jan von Klewitz: alto saxophone; Niko Zeidler: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Richard Maegraith: tenor saxophone, clarinet, flugelhorn; Nik Leistle: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Greg Bowen, Fabian Engwicht,, Ruben Giannotti, Eddie Hayes: trumpet & flugelhorn; Julis Hopf, Jan Landowski, Rasmus Holm, Christopher Sauloff: trombones.