Jazz and the Australian Chamber Orchestra in San Francisco
10/8/2015 11:08:00 PM - Schneider, Webern, Crumb, Bartók, Grieg: Dawn Upshaw (soprano), Australian Chamber Orchestra, Richard Tognetti (artistic director and lead violin), presented by Cal Performances, Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, California, June 16th, 2011

Maria Schneider blurs the borders between jazz and classical music with absolutely none of the self-consciousness or preciousness that often dogs crossovers. In the world premiere of Winter Morning Walks, a song cycle by Maria Schneider written for the soprano Dawn Upshaw, an attentive listener can hear deft use of counterpoint and polyphony as the musical lines move confidently through lush jazz harmonies. Years of scoring for her own 17-piece jazz band and film music produce subtle colors in the writing for chamber orchestra, and her keen intelligence makes the melodic line follow the rhythms and shape of the language.
Schneider’s nine-song work, a Cal Performances commission, was the highlight of a strong program. It was the second concert in a series called Ojai North!, done in association with the Ojai Music Festival, of which Upshaw is the music director. The week opened with a performance by Schneider’s jazz orchestra, and concludes with performances Thursday and Saturday of George Crumb’s The Winds of Destiny.
Upshaw, Schneider and poet Ted Kooser (who was U.S. Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006) all hail from the American Midwest. Kooser’s spare verses use plain language and taut imagery. A flashlight pre-dawn becomes “the moon on a leash.” An older couple huddle at home, where “the house has cupped its hands around the steady candle of our marriage.” Phrases such as “the sky rippled with geese,” and “the pond, still numb from months of ice” draw a smile for their aptness.
Schneider sets these words to music that evokes the starkness of the American plains, but fills in the open harmonies, not so much Copland as Bill Evans, richer and more complex from being tinged with more colorful harmonies. The music is attentive to the words, expanding upon the emotions that lie behind simple ideas such as the appreciation of nature and waking before the day.
Upshaw sang these songs written for her with characteristic purity and silky lyric soprano sound. Unusually for her voice type, however, Schneider gives her some low passages to make use of Upshaw’s smoothly articulate lower register. She’s no mezzo, but the voice doesn’t disappear below the staff, as happens with some lyric sopranos. There’s a womanliness in that part of her voice that belies the girlishness of the high passages.
From the very first quiet chords of “Perfectly Still This Solstice Morning,” the ingratiating musical language made the audience relax. Schneider often starts a song simply, and if the harmonies become more complex, sometimes dissonant, they always resolve, even as they move in unexpected directions. Rhythms vary from stately to moderate, the most agitated coming in the nostalgia of “I Saw a Dust Devil This Morning.” The walking tempos make perfect sense for this cycle, and this composer knows not to ask the Australian Chamber Orchestra, a classical string ensemble, to do jazz licks or go up tempo. Instead, she uses the strings as a billowing curtain of harmonic sound, and leaves the jazz elements to accomplished jazz artists: reed player Scott Robinson, pianist Frank Kimbrough and bassist Jay Anderson, who executed their parts with distinction and taste. This is music that ought to be heard, its warmth and sheer beauty in service of a masterful text.
Seen and Heard International -- Harvey Stelman
The Thompson Fields:  “... this magnificent, nature-drunk masterpiece, one of the great jazz records period, not just one of the great recent jazz records.”

-- THE BUFFALO NEWS – Jeff Simon
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."

-- TheArtsDesk.com – Peter Quinn
"Maria Schneider is a national treasure."

-- NPR
The Thompson Fields: "... a masterpiece ... Schneider's lovely themes are immediately accessible, but this is also music whose intricate arrangements reveal new discoveries on repeated listening."

-- ASSOCIATED PRESS – Charlie Gans
"The Thompson Fields is a testament to the ever-evolving talent of Maria Schneider."

-- JAZZHISTORYONLINE – Thomas Cunniffe
"The Thomson Fields may be her finest triumph in a stellar career as a jazz orchestra leader, composer/arranger and conceptualist. No one in jazz today, or at least in big band jazz, writes in such evocative fashion. Five stars - and then some."

-- Ken Franckling's Jazz Notes – Ken Franckling
"The Maria Schneider Orchestra's ravishing new recording, The Thompson Fields, demonstrates her evolving vision for the evocative and deep nuances of sonic beauty that her music now radiates."

The Thompson Fields (*****five stars)
"...when the artistic offerings competing for our entertainment dollars and attention are vast compared to the days of five television channels and a handful of records labels, one artist has risen—in terms of talent and the beauty and perfection of her recent output—to an Ellington-ian level: Composer/arranger Maria Schneider."

-- ALL ABOUT JAZZ – Dan McClenaghan
"If you are able to cry over a piece of music. The Thompson Fields will make you cry."

-- STEREOPHILE (Recording of the Month) – Thomas Conrad
The Thompson Fields:  "Beyond the searching solos and high virtuosity both on and off the paper, it’s the love poured into The Thompson Fields that flows back out of the speakers and makes it such an unusually moving work of art. It captures Schneider ’s artistic vision unlike anything else in her catalogue."

The Thompson Fields ***** "Beyond categorization….simply sublime...You don’t listen to CDs from the Maria Schneider [Orchestra]. You “experience” them."

"The Thompson Fields breaks that spell with an extravagant show of her strengths: precise, expressive harmony; ribbons of diaphanous texture; a rhythmic momentum that doesn’t feel propulsive so much as wind-borne. Her new pieces, inspired by various ecological and personal epiphanies, stands alongside the best of her previous work, which is saying something."

"With her third album, Allegresse, Schneider... has painted her masterpiece. ...This very well could be the finest jazz album of the year..."

"If anyone is passing out awards for new American music, he should consider composer Maria Schneider."

"Schneider has clearly learned Lester Young's gentle advice for those mining the Jazz tradition: 'You got to be original, man.'"

[Winter Morning Walks] ***** (five stars) "I regard this album as the most important set of song cycles since Andre Previn's 'Honey and Rue' and Peter Lieberson's 'Neruda Songs–and that is exceptionally high praise ... This is a phenomenal recording. Enough said."

'Winter Morning Walks' -- "Lyrical, flowing, intimately expressive, with all the elements of words, music, voice and instruments in a seamless blend, this is music to fall in love with the first time — then immediately want to hear again. "

'Winter Morning Walks' -- "hauntingly beautiful"

"[Winter Morning Walks] is a sterling standard for American art song."

"Led by its visionary composer, the remarkable Maria Schneider Orchestra made its Detroit debut Sunday afternoon, performing her exquisitely orchestrated, walking-on-air compositions with passion, nuance and unanimity of thought and feeling. The sheer elation of the music was profoundly moving."

-- FREEP.COM -- Mark Stryker
“Maria Schneider’s orchestral jazz is about feeling.  Like Wayne Shorter, she somehow expresses compassion through tones.”

-- NEW YORK TIMES -- Ben Ratliff
“To call Schneider the most important woman in jazz is missing the point two ways.  She is a major composer–period.” – TIME MAGAZINE

-- TIME MAGAZINE -- Terry Teachout
"From the lustrous opening chords of a Maria Schneider concert, you can feel you are swept off your feet and falling through space - but with the certainty that someone with a lot of emotional intelligence is there to catch you."

 "...she puts together stories that speak with the clarity of Ernest Hemingway and the musical grace of Aaron Copland."

"Twenty-one musicians of tremendous technical sophistication and emotional energy channel their talents through the direction of the most significant big-band jazz composer of our time."

"She now has become entrenched among the ranks of America's leading composers. ... For Schneider, the question is no longer whether she can sustain the heights she has attained on earlier recordings; it is now how far her musical journey will take her."

-- DOWNBEAT***** -- James Hale
"Blue, as in "Sky Blue" and "Cerulean Skies," reflects the young colorist's Picasso-like "blue period." Like the symbolic overtones associated with the color itself, Schneider's luminous, azure odes are imbued with mystery and serenity, beauty and truth."

"What she does, across the five elegant tracks of Sky Blue, is to create new strands of melody - finely crafted yet tough as steel cable - set within orchestrations that are richly detailed and unhurried, lush but never schmaltzy."

-- THE GUARDIAN -- John L Walters
"Sky Blue is an album of remarkable depth and beauty—an expansive, imagery laden experience, from an artist who’s ready to be considered in the same breath as those who’ve been so important to her own development."

-- ALL ABOUT JAZZ -- John Kelman
"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."

-- ALL ABOUT JAZZ - Jack Bowers
"The disc [Sky Blue] is by far her most ambitious. It is also much more than your father's big band jazz dressed up with classical flourishes. It is integrated, orchestral, composed with specific musicians in mind and among the most arresting, accomplished music of the new century."

-- THE OTTAWA CITIZEN -- Doug Fischer
"Plan on wearing out this album [Sky Blue], because you will want to keep listening for deeper insights. All those little digits will eventually get their edges worn off from being played so often."

-- TUCSON CITIZEN -- Chuck Graham
"It seemed impossible for Schneider top her Grammy-winning Concert in the Garden, but she's done just that with Sky Blue. She has elevated her music to a seemingly impossible height. ... Cerulean Skies” is the masterpiece within a masterpiece, ... Magnificent. A magical work of art, from beginning to end."

-- ALL ABOUT JAZZ -- Dan McClenaghan
"Maria Schneider is both painter and aural poet..."

-- ALL ABOUT JAZZ -- R.J. DeLuke (Troy, NY Concert)
"Schneider brought her Jazz Orchestra to Disney Concert Hall on Wednesday with a program defining her unique style, its multiple pleasures, and its importance to contemporary jazz. …Schneider led her ensemble with graceful gestures, the subtleties of her conducting movements clearly bringing extraordinary layers of dynamic intensity to the performance. Like the music of her most obvious predecessors -- Duke Ellington and Gil Evans -- Schneider's reaches toward a significant new level of imagination, making hers the first truly novel approach to big jazz band composition of the new century."

LA TIMES: Don Heckman

-- LA TIMES: DOn Heckman
"The best album of 2004, by a wide margin, was Maria Schneider's Concert in the Garden (ArtistShare). Critics need to be careful not to mistake taste for trend, so I'm not sure how much to make of it that both this and Wayne Shorter's Alégria, my favorite from 2003, are Spanish-tinged. But this is unmistakably a step ahead for Schneider, whose voicings are as pellucid as any by her mentor Gil Evans, and whose touch, like Ellington's, is evident even in her sidemen's improvised solos."

-- VILLAGE VOICE -- Francis Davis
Let's cut to the chase: I LOVE THIS ALBUM. This is the most lush, lovely collection of music my ears have indulged in for quite some time. There's gorgeous writing; inventive, original, and captivating arranging, and a sympathetic cast of soloists and players.

Bio and Press Quotes Sept. 2015
Downloadable Bio and Press Quotes
September 2015
2014 Whit Lane Photo B/W
Black/white, full body, Whit Lane photo credit
2007 Press Photos (Chair Holding Music)
One photo by Jimmy and Dena Katz.
2007 Press Photos (Red)
Two photos on red background by Jimmy and Dena Katz.
2007 Press Photo (Chair, facing forward)
One photo by Jimmy and Dena Katz
Editor's Pick (Recording of the Month) – Thomas Conrad
ALL ABOUT JAZZ – Dan McClenaghan
RIFFTIDES – Doug Ramsey
THE TELEGRAPH – The Thompson Fields review – Ivan Hewett
TheArtsDesk.com – The Thompson Fields review – Peter Quinn
STEREOPHILE – Fred Kaplan – The Thompson Fields
Maria Schneider Orchestra CD reviewed OTTAWA CITIZEN Peter Hum
Maria Schneider Orchestra: The Thompson Fields (2015) ALL ABOUT JAZZ Dan Bilawsky
Review: Maria Schneider Orchestra's 'The Thompson Fields,' Connection to the Natural World NEW YORK TIMES Nate Chinen
Maria Schneider Orchestra –The Thompson Fields – ArtistShare AUDIOPHILE AUDITION Jeff Krow
Review: The Thompson Fields THE BUFFALO NEWS Jeff Simon
WINTER MORNING WALKS REVIEW – Audiophile Audition Sept. 11, 2013
In Memory of Laurie Frink