by Jeff Kaliss

I first heard Maria Schneider when she was conducting her commissioned composition at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1995. I later attended her press conference there. "I love to be told stories, and I love to tell stories, " she told the adoring media. "And I love to engage with people. "

Those sentiments, apparent in her "Scenes From Childhood' back then, are on display again in the latest release in her double-Grammy-winning career. She’s bolstered this time around by two sets of lyrics drawn from two different poets, Nebraskan Ted Kooser and Brazilian Carlos Drummond de Andrade (as translated into English by Mark Strand). Working with lyrics is a first for Schneider, as are her collaborations here with a classical soprano, Dawn Upshaw, and with two major classical ensembles, the Australian Chamber Orchestra (for Kooser’s Winter Morning Walks) and The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra from her native Minnesota (for Drummond’s Stories). She seems to have successfully engaged all parties involved with the realization of the album, and listeners with a love for orchestral evocation will likewise be captivated.

Kooser wrote the nine poems selected for Winter Morning Walks while he was working a successful recovery from cancer. Schneider proves an artisan in marrying melody to words, as in her tonic-dominant setting of the “side to side” swing of a flashlight in the early dawn. She also masters the colors of her strings and the rhythm and pacing of her ensemble and soloists to set affecting scenes of Great Plains naturescapes and domesticity. Upshaw delivers the evocative poems in a voice as clear and bright as the described “solstice morning, in bone-cracking cold.” The soprano divests herself of the inappropriate aspects of classical training, instead bringing the composer’s music across in the contemporary, talky style of Broadway, but with a rarely heard elevation of purity and heart. This is a sterling standard for American art song.

Having displayed an impressive variety of musical forms with the Kooser poems, from lushly romantic to quietly contemplative to quasi-atonal, following the poet’s different moods and subject matter, Schneider manifests a credible and affecting Latin American and Iberian tinge throughout the five tracks of the Drummond material. The Prologue, in fact, functions as a lovely homage to Heitor Villa-Lobos’ beloved Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, entrancing vocalese included. Schneider dresses the lovelorn Don’t Kill Yourself in flamenco harmonies and buleria rhythms, while the Quadrille evokes a Piazzolla chamber setting, allowing for individual displays of string virtuosity by the Saint Paul ensemble. Upshaw’s passion and prettiness shine through all of this.

In that jazz setting more than 17 years ago, Schneider had voiced her wish “to be called an American composer.” With this offering, she’s more than earned the respect and appreciation of the best who claim membership in that group.

-- Jeff Kaliss

Press quotes

“Data Lords” . . .  is her magnum opus, a riveting, remarkably intense double album, as profound as modern-day instrumental music gets. Link to article


Now it's finally here, in the form of a magnificent double album, Data Lords . . .  it parses into thematic halves, "The Digital World" and, as an antidote, "The Natural World." On the whole and in the details, it amounts to the most daring work of Schneider's career, which sets the bar imposingly high. This is music of extravagant mastery, and it comes imbued with a spirit of risk. Link to article

- – Nate Chinen

“The Digital World” emerges as her manifesto against everything that limits the expressive range of the human spirit. “The Natural World” becomes a summarizing afterword in Schneider’s musical autobiography that illustrates the natural forces that keep her creative compass pointing true north. Link to article

- The Arts Fuse –– Allen Michie

Data Lords: Schneider’s craft and judgment are such that music in the eerie, dystopian world has the marvellous feeling for structure, pacing and often sheer beauty that listeners who know Schneider’s music will be expecting. . . .

There are instrumental glories throughout this album, but the work of the low brass both as section and as individuals is quite unbelievable and is caught exceptionally well on the recording. Whereas Wagner once said “don’t look at the trombones, it only encourages them", I had the sense that Maria Schneider must keep looking at the trombones a lot. And they certainly deliver here. Link to article

- – Sebastian Scotney

With Data Lords – a steeliness and even bleakness now shares a stage with her familiar pastoral side. . . . The inner tensions behind this compelling session promise a revealing new phase in Schneider's remarkable work. Link to article

- THE GUARDIAN – John Fordham

Beyond the dualism in its format, Data Lords is a work of holistic creativity. The music of outrage and critique in the first album has all the emotion and conceptual integrity that the music of melancholy and reverence does in the second. I can’t conceive of anyone else creating this music, unless Delius has been writing with Bowie on the other side. Link to article

- THE NATION – David Hajdu

Data Lords: Disc One offers highly imaginative, revelatory, at times breathtaking music as in the title track. . . . Expect this project, at a minimum, to be a Grammy contender with perhaps historic recognition in the wings at some point. Link to article



The Thompson Fields:  “... this magnificent, nature-drunk masterpiece, one of the great jazz records period, not just one of the great recent jazz records.”


Maria Schneider wanted to send a strong message about the threat of a mass manipulation of humanity with Data Lords. Through her high standard for meticulous composing and arranging, delivered by some of jazz’s best musicians, she gets the message across in perhaps the grandest way possible.

- – S. Victor Aaron

The Thompson Fields: ***** "...there is nobody more capable of harnessing emotions in music and projecting and preserving the beauty and power of the natural world in sound than Maria Schneider. She's demonstrated that time and again, and she does it once more on this awe-inspiring release."

- ALL ABOUT JAZZ – Dan Bilawsky

The Thompson Fields:  "This marriage of sounds, words and images is ultimately breathtaking, a testament not simply to the hipness of jazz but to the uplifting and sustaining powers of art."


"The Thompson Fields breaks through to a new level. It's her most ambitious recording, and her most accomplished; it places her in the pantheon of big-band composer-leaders, just below Ellington, Strayhorn, and Gil Evans at his very best; it's a masterpiece"

- STEREOPHILE – Fred Kaplan

The Thompson Fields ***** (five stars)  "Her latest album, some 10 years in the making, shows just what a supple and powerful instrument a jazz orchestra can be."

- THE TELEGRAPH – Ivan Hewett

The Thompson Fields: ***** (five stars) "...a sound-world of rare eloquence ... the singularly most beautiful record I've heard this year."

- – Peter Quinn

"Maria Schneider is a national treasure."