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Dawn Upshaw/Maria Schneider: Winter Morning Walks

Dan McClenaghan By

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Maria Schneider proved her genius as a composer and arranger beyond any doubt with Concert in the Garden (ArtistShare, 2004), and she did it again on her second masterpiece of orchestral jazz, Sky Blue (ArtistShare, 2007). With Winter Morning Walks, Schneider introduces her first works with major orchestras, the Australian Chamber Orchestra on the nine part "Winter Morning Walks," and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra on "Carlo Drummond de Andrade Stories," both in partnership with soprano Dawn Upshaw.

"Winter Morning Walks," puts music to the poetry of Ted Kooser, the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2004 to 2006. These short, clear, simple and profound pieces were composed during his recovery from cancer treatment. Upshaw's vocals soar. The Australian Chamber Orchestra—along with long time Schneider compatriots Frank Kimbrough (piano), Scott Robinson (reeds), and Jay Anderson (bass)—caress the words, inject small surprises inside the pastel string washes, violins and violas whispering like soft breezes through the prairie grass, making the canopies of the tall trees sing.

After the subtle magnificence, the hushed beauty of "Winter Morning Walks," it's probably best to take a break, or to perhaps listen to the work again. It is an experience to be savored before moving on to "Carlos Drummond de Andrade Stories."

Carlos Drummond de Adrade (1902 to 1987) was one of Brazil's greatest poets. His writing was most often rooted in the everyday, often featuring contrasts between moods of darkness and light. The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra features a broader palette of colors, with the strings joined by woodwinds and brass embracing the vocals. The backdrop behind Upshaw is more colorful here, though the moods are often darker. "The Dead in Frock Coats" throbs with a deep, aching melancholy; while "Don't Kill Yourself" floats back and forth between whimsey and deep despair, narrated by the poet's street-wise and somewhat detached yet sympathetic—even loving—voice.

Winter Morning Walks features two major works by a major artist. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis has long been an advocate for Duke Ellington as the greatest composer/arranger that the United States ever produced. That's a hard point to argue against. We may now, with the release of "Winter Morning Walks" and "Carlos Drummond de Andrade Stories," have to acknowledge Maria Schneider as our greatest "living" arranger/composer.

Track Listing: Winter Morning Walks: Perfectly Still This Morning Solstice; When I Switched On a Light; Walking by Flashlight; I Saw a Dust Devil this Morning; My Wife and I Walk the Cold Road;All Night, in Gusty Winds; Our Finch Feeder; Spring, the Sky Rippled with Geese; How Important It Must Be. Carlos Drummond de Andrade Stories: Prologue; The Dead in Frock Coats; Souvenir of the Ancient World.

Personnel: Winter Morning Walks: Maria Schneider: composer; Dawn Upshaw: vocals; Jay Anderson: bass; Frank Kimbrough: piano; Scott Robinson: alto clarinet, bass clarinet; The Australian Chamber Orchestra. Carlos Drummond de Andrade Stories: Maria Schneider: composer; Dawn Upshaw: vocals; The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Title: Winter Morning Walks | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Artist Share

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