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Maria Schneider Orchestra: Sky Blue

Budd Kopman By

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Maria Schneider and her orchestra (and yes, it is an orchestra and not a band) demonstrate everything that is right with ArtistShare specifically and jazz in general, with the miraculous Sky Blue being but the latest example.

In a perfect world, ArtistShare would not have to exist, since record companies would deal honestly with the artist and music lovers would actually buy the records and not expect everything digital to be free.

However, since Utopia has not arrived yet, ArtistShare was created to help bring together artists and their fans—who can, to the degree they wish, participate in the project by pre-ordering the CD or donating more to cover production costs. This creates a real bond between artist and fan that allows projects like the seventeen-piece Maria Schneider Orchestra to exist and thrive.

Schneider resembles Duke Ellington in how she approaches composition. She writes for the specific instrumentation of five reeds/flutes from soprano through bass/baritone, four trumpets/flugelhorns, three trombones and one lower trombone/tuba and a rhythm section of guitar, piano, bass and drums, with other instruments added for special effects.

Furthermore, the core cadre of players has remained basically the same from Allegresse (Enja, 2000). Thus, the Schneider sound starts with a particular set of players in a particular configuration.

However, Schneider's music on Sky Blue is unique because it is extremely personal, pouring out of Schneider's life experience; and also because it is universal and speaks to our common humanity. Nature, in its beauty and awesomeness, and our relation to it and each other, is the message she brings.

To listen is to spend an hour in her world and hear that world translated into music. The soloists, chosen for what they can bring to a particular piece, seem to be given free license within the piece's parameters. She writes for these specific people and wants them to respond. They want to be there and do respond; the orchestra is her instrument, she is for them, they are for her, and the music is for us.

The control Schneider maintains is perfect as colors, densities and rhythms change as the music flows. The large scale of pieces such as the twenty-two minute "Cerulean Skies" are held together effortlessly with not one second of waste. With Sky Blue, Schneider has reached a compositional peak.

This music, which is actually beyond category, will attract both classical and jazz lovers. Says Schneider, "Making this sixth record, I realize it's what I live to do—to collaborate with these fantastically gifted people in order to create a thing of beauty for anyone who might listen. And therein lies the real fulfillment—the sharing of music."

Track Listing: The 'Pretty' Road; Aires de Lando; Rich's Piece; Cerulean Skies; Sky Blue.

Personnel: Steve Wilson: alto and soprano saxophones, flute, alto flute, soprano saxophone solo (5); Charles Pillow: alto saxophone, clarinet, piccolo, flute, alto flute, bass flute, alto saxophone solo (4); Rich Perry: tenor saxophone, flute, tenor saxophone solo (3); Donny McCaslin: tenor saxophone, clarinet, tenor saxophone solo (4); Scott Robinson: baritone saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, clarinet solo (2); Tony Kadleck: trumpet, fluegelhorn; Jason Carder: trumpet, fluegelhorn; Laurie Frink: trumpet, fluegelhorn; Ingrid Jensen: trumpet, fluegelhorn, fluegelhorn and trumpet solo with electronics (1); Keith O'Quinn: trombone; Ryan Keberle: trombone; Marshall Gilkes: trombone; George Flynn: bass trombone, contrabass trombone; Ben Monder: guitar; Frank Kimbrough: piano; Jay Anderson: bass; Clarence Penn: drums; Gary Versace: accordion (1, 2, 4), accordion solo (4); Luciana Sousa: voice (1, 4); Gonzalo Grau: cajon, palmas, percussion (2), percussion (4); Jon Wikan: cajon, palmas (2), percussion (3, 4).

Title: Sky Blue | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: ArtistShare

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