by Steven Ritter
2/23/2018 4:48:38 AM - "WINTER MORNING WALKS" (buy here)
Classical Music Review by Steven Ritter
This is a phenomenal recording.  Enough said. *****

Maria Schneider strikes me as a highly intuitive composer. There is structure to her music, yet not; continuity yet never bound to any particular formal scheme; and most of her music has that unassailable feeling of sounding "right" for no other reason than she has willed it so and wanted it that way. Her muse is very much in the moment-when I listen to her compositions I am not really looking forward to what's down the line in the way that hearing Beethoven almost demands anticipatory suspense and final resolution.

Of course, she is primarily a jazz musician, having formed her own big band/orchestra in 1993, and leads it like a conductor in front of a symphony orchestra. Jazz has its own rules, and though this album under review does confound the idea of labels as such, DOWNBEAT MAGAZINE doesn't give composer awards–as it has to her in three consecutive years from 2010-12–to purely "classical" composers. So we do need to start with a frame of reference.

Her originality in the field has managed to stretch the confines of jazz into something new without resorting to the avant-garde. Years ago people like Anthony Braxton, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Ornette Coleman were breaking all sorts of barriers in imitation of the classical composers before them who had also considered their art form to be running into a dead end. The thing is, no one, aside from some real diehard fans, listened; and in the meanwhile people like Chick Corea moved into the rock genre sound-wise and attracted new audiences. Today we look at the work of Coleman at al with a lot more sympathy the same way the Schoenberg's music has, in many ways, become familiar, accepted, and even loved in some quarters. But those days are gone, and the radicals cannot be returned to. So what is a jazz composer to do?

One answer is to simply move backwards the way an artist like Wynton Marsalis has, playing the oldies, or the imitation oldies with unalloyed perfection. Another seems to be the road Schneider has taken, incorporating innate musicality comprised of her entire musical experiences since a child, and not fearing to tread onto new turf. This isn't new; even here people like Duke Ellington and Stan Kenton were paving the way before Schneider was born, and I would be startled to hear if those two didn't have an influence on her. But when I listen to a piece like her GRAMMY-winning "Cerulean Skies" I am hearing jazz, Copland, folk structures, sentimentality, pessimism, optimism, and a feeling that most of all reminds me of Roy Harris in his curious ability to project the fears and hopes of the American land in a way that few others could.

But on this album, we move away from jazz, almost completely, or at least no further into it than many other American and European composers hearkening only to hints and surface similarities, despite the presence of improvisation, which classical music actually claims first rights to anyway. And when one has Dawn Upshaw at her disposal, it's no easy turn to "not" write directly for a voice as versatile and spectacular as hers. So we have two song cycles, both similar and superb music, thought "Winter Morning Walks" may be a masterpiece, with "Carlos Drummond de Andrade Stories" gently nipping at its heels. And who is Carlos Drummond de Andrade? One of Brazil's top poets, discovered by Schneider a long time ago as she has an affinity for that country, yet brought home during her first visit 15 years ago. This performance is dedicated to her father, who evidently loved the piece and hoped to hear more; he would not, though more was forthcoming.

And it appeared int he guise of "Winter Morning Walks." These poems, just nine out of what poet Ted Kooser says are hundreds, and succinct and pithy in content. He began writing them when recovering from cancer surgery and having to stay out of the sun. His many morning walks inspired him to finally start reading and writing abain, and he put these small vignettes on a postcard and sent them to a friend, one by one. Schneider's music perfectly captures the mood of these writings, and is supplanted by Dawn Upshaw's radiant singing, almost ecstatic utterances that give primary and forceful precedence to the melodic line, while a lot of the movement of the music actually occurs way underneath in the orchestra. It's a great concept and a highly sophisticated and moving sound.

Watching a few YouTube videos of Schneider being interviewed show her to be a very unassuming composer, even anti-intellectual in the way she approaches her art. In other words, despite the complexity of much of the music, there is far more heart than head in this artist's oeuvre. Both the chamber orchestra, highly regarded each, play beautifully, and one can only hope that this marks a beginning of Schneider's entrance into even more orchestral music in the future. She is an important composer for sure, and 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.
Steven Ritter – Audiophile Audition
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."

-- – 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 Maria Schneider Orchestra: Led by Ms. Schneider, a composer and orchestrator of penetrating insight, this group has an ambitiously realized new album – "The Thompson Fields," its first release in eight years – that underscores its stature as the pre-eminent large ensemble of our time."

-- THE NEW YORK TIMES - Nate Chinen
"The Thompson Fields" ***** (five-stars) "Heartening jazz suite that's too good to miss" 

-- THE GUARDIAN – John Fordham
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.

Briene Lerrmitte, The Thompson Fields, 12 photos
12 Briene Lermitte Photos
"The Thompson Fields"
Whit Lane 4 photos
4 Whit Lane Photos
2 black/white and 2 color
Live Photos
6 Live Photos
Credits on Photo Files
Katz photos
Jimmy & Dena Katz Photos
5 Shots (4 color and 1 black/white)
by John Fordham
Recording of the Month
by Thomas Conrad
by Dan McClenaghan
by Peter Bacon
by Doug Ramsey
by Ivan Hewett
by Peter Quinn
by Fred Kaplan
by Peter Hum
by Dan Bilawsky
by Nate Chinen
by Jeff Krow
by Jeff Simon
by Steven Ritter
by Jeff Kaliss