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Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra at the Jazz Standard, NYC

Budd Kopman By

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The Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra at the Jazz Standard
The Jazz Standard
New York City, New York
November 20, 2007

This year's Thanksgiving week stand at the Jazz Standard, the third year in a row for the band, started off with what can only be described as a magical experience. The club was sold out for both shows on this night, and will most likely be for the rest of the week.

The reason is quite simple: Schneider writes and arranges music that speaks directly from her heart to ours—music that is extremely beautiful without ever being cloying, music that breathes and grooves, music that brings out the best in the orchestra and the soloists.

With the band spilling off the stage and onto the floor, pressing right up against the audience, who were pressed against each other, the atmosphere was one of genuine love, with everyone smiling, waiting for the set to begin.

As the lights dimmed and the usual announcements were made, we held our collective breath as the orchestra started the first number, which happened to not be from Sky Blue, Schneider's latest release. The sound, which is as identifiable as Ellington's, filled the room and embraced us with its warmth.

Schneider's scores are quite complex in the through- composed sections, and the musicians, though quite well rehearsed, kept a close eye on Schneider as she conducted. Musically she is in complete control of the total timbre, so much so that the music feels as if it could play itself, despite its complexity. When it was time for a soloist to play, Schneider would sit down, and a band within the orchestra would come to the fore sonically, although the end of most of the solos had a larger accompaniment.

The role of the soloists shows a fascinating side of Schneider and her music. Quite a few of the players are major names in the jazz world, and the fact that they want to be there, and perhaps not even solo, shows the attraction of Schneider as a person, composer and leader. Among the soloists were Ingrid Jensen (flugelhorn), Scott Robinson (clarinet), Donny McCaslin (saxophone), Marshall Gilkes (trombone), Charles Pillow (saxophone)—subbing for Rich Perry—Chris Cheek (saxophone) and Gary Versace (accordion), plus the ever-smiling drummer Clarence Penn.

Three tunes from Sky Blue—"Aires de Lando," "The 'Pretty' Road" and "Cerulean Skies"—took up most of the set, and the waves of sound could be not only heard but felt all the way in the back. To call these works "tone poems" does not do them justice in that while their inspiration is a memory or scene, the music is almost spiritual in its message.

To live in a country where one is able to hear music such as this, and to share the experience with many different people—former strangers brought together by a common language on this Thanksgiving week—is truly a blessing to be thankful for.

Personnel:

Conductor and moderator: Maria Schneider

Trumpets: Tony Kadlek, Ingrid Jensen, John Owens, Laurie Frink

Saxophones: Charles Pillow, Steve Wilson, Donny McCaslin, Chris Cheek, Scott Robinson

Trombones: Keith O'Quinn, Ryan Keberle, Marshall Gilkes, George Flynn

Rhythm section: Ben Monder: guitar; Frank Kimbrough: piano; Scott Colley: bass; Clarence Penn: drums; Gary Versace: accordion; John Wikan: percussion.

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