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Maria Schneider Orchestra: The Thompson Fields

C. Michael Bailey By

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Composer and band leader Maria Schneider has only a single peer... Carla Bley. Both women are direct descendants of Duke Ellington and the spiritual children of Hector Berlioz. They are not masters of a single instrument, but of collections of instruments and their achievement is realized from directing those instruments in a given direction dictated by their composition and arrangement...just like Ellington. Their compositions are often intricate and expansive, conceived with precision and performed with warmth and organic intelligence. Schneider's first recording with her orchestra in eight years, The Thompson Fields is a testament to this. A New Yorker for many years, Schneider returns home to Minnesota where she is inspired by the landscape, people, and memories. The result is Art with a Capital "A."

If there is such a thing as "tone poetry" and "integrated musical suites" they are achieved in a certain perfection of The Thompson Fields. Schneider commands the dynamic sound range from pianississimo to fortississimo like the master she is, creating a sonic landscape that is as memory tactile as it is sublimely abstract. Schneider is well known for the potent autobiography in her music, an element that she makes so familiar that the music may be heard through the experiential prism of many. "Walking by Flashlight" is based on a simple repeating figure that is harmonically elaborated on in such a way to suggest gentle hills surrounding a dirt road in the early morning. This harmonic underpinning provides a vehicle for Scott Robinson's expressively serene alto clarinet (this may be the first time the alto clarinet was featured as a solo instrument. Pianist Frank Kimbrough season's Robinson's solo with just enough background to keep it all afloat.

The richly detailed "the Monarch and the Milkweed" features first, Marshall Gilkes's soft and even-tempered trombone, followed by the flugelhorn of Greg Gisbert, presented with piquant clarity. Tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin creates its own neighborhood on "Arbiters of Evolution" sharing solo space again with Scott Robinson, this time playing baritone saxophone. McCaslin summons many tenor spirits, mixing and making to afford a unique sound of his own, while Robinson shows off his wares on the big horn. The title piece is a quiet earthy piece that captures Schneider at her most submerged in her homeward memories. If Beethoven's 6th Symphony captures a Black Forest babbling brook in a thunderstorm, then Schneider's "The Thompson Fields" captures her Minnesota at the end of harvest as winter approaches. Schneider demonstrates amply that she is at the pinnacle of her craft with no descent in sight.

Worthy of mention is Schneider's use of the ArtistShare paradigm for funding her projects. ArtistShare is one of the Internet's first crowdfunding platforms, an entity providing artists a means of communicating their projects and securing benefactors as its business model. It also operates as a record and distribution company. This business paradigm enables artists to finance their projects by allowing the general public to directly contribute, view the creative process, and often gain access to extra material from an artist as a bonus. Schneider has perfected this method. Additionally, Schneider received through ArtistShare, commissions for four of the eight pieces in The Thompson Fields. All of this enabled Schneider to provide her release a worthy packaging with thorough liner notes and musical credits, housed in an attractive book-like case. I hope this is the future of recording.

Track Listing: Walking By Flashlight; The Monarch And The Milkweed; Arbiters Of Evolution; The Thompson Fields; Home; Nimbus; A Potter's Song; Lembranca.

Personnel: Steve Wilson: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet, flute, alto flute; Dave Pietro: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet, flute, alto flute, bass flute, piccolo; Rich Perry: tenor saxophone; Donny McCaslin: tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute; Scott Robinson: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, alto clarinet, clarinet; Tony Kadleck: trumpet, fluegelhorn; Greg Gisbert: trumpet, fluegelhorn; Augie Haas: trumpet, fluegelhorn; Mike Rodriguez: trumpet, fluegelhorn; Keith O'Quinn,: trombone; Ryan Keberle: trombone; Marshall Gilkes: trombone; George Flynn: bass trombone; Gary Versace: accordion; Lage Lund: guitar; Frank Kimbrough: piano; Rogerio Boccato: percussion (8); Clarence Penn: drums; Jay Anderson: bass.

Title: The Thompson Fields | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: ArtistShare

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