Maria Schneider Orchestra: Sky Blue

Jeff Dayton-Johnson By

Sign in to view read count
Maria Schneider Orchestra: Sky Blue The warmest of accolades have already been heaped upon Maria Schneider's new record, and deservedly so. How, everyone seems to wonder, could Schneider possibly top the Grammy-winning Concert in the Garden (ArtistShare, 2004)? Forget that. How could she possibly top the first four minutes of "The Pretty Road," the track that opens Sky Blue? Somehow, Ingrid Jensen's long and suitably airy solo lifts the piece higher still. And then there are four more incredible numbers...

Beyond the oft-remarked lineage that links Schneider to Duke Ellington and Gil Evans, the central role played by birds on the majority of the pieces featured here might call to mind Olivier Messiaen, arguably the greatest composer of the 20th century, and certainly one of the weirdest. Messiaen, drunk on Catholic mysticism, pursued the intricacies of birdsong to glimpse the Divine. Schneider's approach is, by all appearances, more agnostic, but similarly focused on the natural world, something outside human history.

Meanwhile, "Rich's Piece," built around the phenomenal playing of saxophonist Rich Perry, is nevertheless as spiritual sounding as those of mid-period John Coltrane, or subsequently Pharaoh Sanders. While the birdsong at the beginning of the magisterial "Cerulean Sky" recalls the opening of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" more than a Messiaen composition, Frank Kimbrough's jagged piano playing at various turns sounds more than a little like Messiaen's birdsong experiments.

But if birdsong lifts the attention not just skyward, but heavenward, other aspects of the avian analogy return the gaze to worldly concerns. Migration—the global mobility of birds that is a theme of "Sky Blue," the final composition here—is a metaphor for human migration, a social phenomenon at the root of so many musical innovations, including jazz itself. The echoes of Aaron Copland on the big, open chords of "Rich's Piece" and "Cerulean Sky," and the profound mastery of the jazz idiom on this record—these are sonic markers of community, of shared experience. Many of the human experiences explicitly evoked are more personal than social—memory, loss, dance, the rebirth of hope—but they are as human as the birdsong connections are celestial.

Sky Blue is that rare record that plumbs the sacred and the profane; life-affirming 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).

Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: ArtistShare | Style: Big Band


More Articles

Read Fellowship CD/LP/Track Review Fellowship
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: February 22, 2017
Read E.S.T. Symphony CD/LP/Track Review E.S.T. Symphony
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 22, 2017
Read June CD/LP/Track Review June
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: February 22, 2017
Read The Invariant CD/LP/Track Review The Invariant
by Mark Sullivan
Published: February 22, 2017
Read Akua's Dance CD/LP/Track Review Akua's Dance
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: February 21, 2017
Read Daylight Ghosts CD/LP/Track Review Daylight Ghosts
by Mark Sullivan
Published: February 21, 2017
Read "Jambú" CD/LP/Track Review Jambú
by Joe Gatto
Published: February 13, 2017
Read "Cactus" CD/LP/Track Review Cactus
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: August 24, 2016
Read "Piano Song" CD/LP/Track Review Piano Song
by Troy Collins
Published: January 26, 2017
Read "More Stories from the Village" CD/LP/Track Review More Stories from the Village
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: May 13, 2016
Read "December Songs" CD/LP/Track Review December Songs
by Mark Sullivan
Published: December 5, 2016
Read "Unstatic" CD/LP/Track Review Unstatic
by Karl Ackermann
Published: August 11, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!