If you are fond of lovely music, and are able to look beyond categories and labels to unmask its allure, chances are you'll fall head-over-heels in love with Sky Blue, composer/arranger Maria Schneider's sixth album and third for ArtistShare. Having studied with Bob Brookmeyer and the late Gil Evans, and strived earlier in her career to emulate their style and temperament, Schneider has of late begun listening more to her own heart and composing music that is not only surpassingly beautiful but explicitly personal and honest.
Is it jazz? In a manner of speaking, yes. There is a rhythmic pulse, albeit sometimes weak, and improvisation, even though it is now and then difficult to ascertain where the written score ends and improvisation begins. But Schneider's music, although conceived for and performed by a conventional big band, transcends the limitations of genre and stereotype, embodying elements of jazz within a more decorous classical structure that would not be out of place in almost any concert setting. Like many classical composers, Schneider writes thematically, and much like Duke Ellington, she often develops her essays with a specific musician (or musicians) in mind. On Sky Blue, she has designed congenial showcases for trumpeter Ingrid Jensen ("The 'Pretty' Road ), clarinetist Scott Robinson ("Aires de Lando ), tenor saxophonist Rich Perry ("Rich's Piece ) and soprano Steve Wilson ("Sky Blue ).
"Cerulean Skies, the album's most ambitious portrait (and the longest, at more than twenty-one minutes), features tenor Donny McCaslin, accordionist Gary Versace, alto Charles Pillow, a variety of bird calls by members of the ensemble, and four more (at the very end) by the elusive and seldom-heard cerulean warbler. It represents the sights and sounds Schneider has experienced in "[her] forest, New York City's Central Park, especially the arrival each spring of millions of birds who fill the air with color and song. "The 'Pretty' Road invokes Schneider's romantic memories of a highway leading to her hometown in rural Minnesota, "Aires de Lando her introduction two years ago to the often mystifying sounds and rhythms of Peruvian music, while "Sky Blue depicts the love and emotions that enfolded the passing of a dear friend, Kate Sullivan, and validates a faith in something higher and more permanent that eclipses one's evanescent earthly existence.
Thanks to engineer Joe Ferla, the sound on Sky Blue is as charming as the music. "What is most personal, Schneider affirms, "can also be what is most universal. Sky Blue is an intimate statement that speaks openly to everyone who appreciates exemplary 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).
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