Composer and orchestra leader Maria Schneider won her first Grammy for her 2004 ArtistShare album, Concert In The Garden, and now has garnered two Grammy nominations for her 2007 release, Sky Blue. Nominated for "Best Large Ensemble Album and "Best Instrumental Composition ("Cerulean Skies ), Schneider cements her reputation as one of the great composers of our time. What is clearly evident from the outset is that Sky Blue is not your typical big band recording. Those expecting the swing and swagger of a big band production are in for a surprise.
Schneider pushes the boundaries of jazz, presenting musical scores that center on her fascination with birds, and attempts to pen an imaginative musical tale of avian migration from the perspective of New York's Central Park. The result is five lengthy charts with the album's signature piece being the almost twenty-two minute "Cerulean Skies. The music is airy and spacious and not at all bound by the normal parameters one is accustomed to hearing from orchestral music.
Of course it helps to produce a unique concept album when you have one of the finest jazz orchestras in the country. The personnel reads like a list of all-stars, including master saxophonist Charles Pillow, as well as tenor saxophonists Rich Perry and Donny McCaslin, trumpeters Tony Kadleck and Ingrid Jensen and pianist Frank Kimbrough.
Perry is honored with the Schneider composition, "Rich's Piece, where he delivers an appreciable solo. Steve Wilson, another monster musician, provides a soprano solo on the title tune, while the opening statement, "The 'Pretty' Road, features Jensen on flugelhorn and trumpet with electronic effects.
The music is quite different from what one is accustomed to hearing from a big band project; then again Maria Schneider is quite different from the average music composer/bandleader of today and her Grammy nods prove it. For a departure from the norm, Sky Blue is serious sophisticated jazz with a message that this stuff is definitely not for the birds!
Track Listing: The 'Pretty' Road; Aires de Lando; Rich's Piece; Cerulean Skies; Sky Blue.
Personnel: Maria Schneider: composer, arranger, bandleader; 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, flugelhorn; Jason Carder: trumpet, flugelhorn; Laurie Frink: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ingrid Jensen: trumpet, flugelhorn, flugelhorn 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).
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.