|12/17/2014 6:03:39 PM - CONCERT REVIEW: Swinging and mostly moving, to the finish : For the two Sunday concerts in last weekend's 65th annual Ojai Music Festival, jazz composer-bandleader Maria Schneider was the star of the day|
On Sunday morning in the Libbey Bowl, some Ojai Music Festival purists might have raised an eyeball and an earlobe upon hearing the fare — jazz, by any other name. Then again, any diehard Ojai Festival fan knows better than to don a purist hat too snugly. Flexibility is built into the festival agenda, along with deep, abiding "serious music" lore, in progress.
In some way, the early Sunday concert from the Maria Schneider Orchestra — a much-acclaimed jazz big band — amounted to possibly the most successful ladling of jazz into the Ojai Festival context in its history. This comes after some forgettable experiments in the past and at least one powerful jazz-classical contender, Marc-Anthony Turnage's dazzling genre-crosser "Blood on the Floor."
It helps that Ms. Schneider is a classically trained composer who forged her own emotional- yet-sophisticated language with the band she has kept for more than 20 years. From the slowly building, opening strains of her chart "Journey Home" on, the Schneider magic was in good standing here, before an audience presumably largely unfamiliar with her work — so far.
Apart from the strengths of her writing and inventive arrangemental thinking, Ms. Schneider benefits from the technical and expressive strengths of her musicians, as improvisers and ensemble players. Among the memorable solos in the show were Scott Robinson's baritone sax wild-then-mellifluous adventure, Alex Morris' fluid, hot flugelhorn turn, and pianist Frank Kimbrough's flowing work throughout.
As strong as the concert was, overall, the best came last. In the second set, Ms. Schneider unveiled a moving, American-esque and sweet-spirited new work, "The Thompson Fields," in tribute to a family of eco-conscious farmers in Minnesota (Ms. Schneider's home turf before she landed in New York City).
Bandleader Maria Schneider and her orchestra play Sunday at the Ojai Music Festival.
Another kind of nature lineage comes through in her impressive piece "Cerulean Skies," commissioned by Peter Sellars for the Mozart Festival in Vienna, and featured on her 2007 album "Sky Blue." The leitmotif here is birdsong, and it stands up as a tribute to the wonder of migratory birds. She mixes bird calls and effects with her usual eloquence, employing textural and thematic soundscape painting.
After tenor saxist Donny McCaslin gave what was probably the strongest solo of the concert, accordionist Victor Prieto issued abstract birdsong gestures in the high range of his keyboard, resulting in half-accidental ambient dialogues with the birdsongs naturally heard in Libbey Bowl. It was the most charming bird-centric interchange between the stage and the skies of Ojai since Olivier "birdman of France" Messiaen appeared at the festival in 1985.
Ms. Schneider's fascinating and ear-friendly performance on Sunday morning may have been a demonstration of this artist in her long-standing element. But in the Sunday evening concert, we caught wind of a more newly emerging (or re-emerging) side of her music, as a composer for a "classical" setting. In a concert featuring another of this festival's spotlight artists, violinist Richard Tognetti's strikingly fine Australian Chamber Orchestra, soprano Dawn Upshaw (this year's festival music director) gave a typically strong, unerring and spot-on world premiere performance of Ms. Schneider's lovely, poignant song cycle "Winter Morning Walks," based on the short, reflective poetry of Midwesterner Ted Kooser.
Ms. Schneider's new piece is a resoundingly strong, heartfelt and intelligently "accessible" score, with some almost poppish melodic designs folded into classical structures. She also managed to cleverly work her jazz instincts into the mix, with the help of a few of her big band players improvising alongside the classical crew.
In a potentially nervy but ultimately intriguing programming move, the ACO concert opened with an interweaving, movement by movement account of Anton Webern's masterful miniature suite from 1910, "Five Pieces for Strings, Opus 5," and George Crumb's famous anti-Vietnam tone poem "Black Angels." Also on the program was another captivating, five- part muscular model of economy, Be´la Bartok's "Five Hungarian Songs," with Ms. Upshaw taking charge of the Hungarian lyrics with her usual flair.
| Josef Woodard -- Santa Barbara News-Press June 14, 2011|
|[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."|
-- AUDIOPHILE AUDITION - STEVEN RITTER
|'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. "|
-- NEW ENGLAND PUBLIC RADIO -- John Montanari
|"[Winter Morning Walks] is a sterling standard for American art song."|
-- SAN FRANCISCO CLASSICAL VOICE -- Jeff Kaliss
|'Winter Morning Walks' -- "hauntingly beautiful"|
-- NPR's "ALL SONGS CONSIDERED"
|"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
|"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."|
-- THE GUARDIAN -- JOHN FORDHAM
| "...she puts together stories that speak with the clarity of Ernest Hemingway and the musical grace of Aaron Copland."|
-- PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW -- Bob Karlovits
|“Maria Schneider’s orchestral jazz is about feeling. Like Wayne Shorter, she somehow expresses compassion through tones.”|
-- NEW YORK TIMES -- Ben Ratliff
|"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
|“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
|"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."|
-- CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR -- Norman Weinstein
|"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
|"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."|
-- HARTFORD COURANT -- Owen McNally
|"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
|"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
|"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
|"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.|
-- Jack Skowron -- THE AUDIOPHILE VOICE
|"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
|"Maria Schneider is both painter and aural poet..."|
-- ALL ABOUT JAZZ -- R.J. DeLuke (Troy, NY Concert)
|"With her third album, Allegresse, Schneider... has painted her masterpiece. ...This very well could be the finest jazz album of the year..."|
-- BILLBOARD MAGAZINE
|"If anyone is passing out awards for new American music, he should consider composer Maria Schneider."|
-- THE NEWS AND OBSERVER (Raleigh, NC)
|"Schneider has clearly learned Lester Young's gentle advice for those mining the Jazz tradition: 'You got to be original, man.'"|