Maria Schneider Orchestra – The Thompson Fields
(artistShare. AS0137. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield.)
Maria Schneider writes jazz pieces which are full, rich and deep. The music her eighteen piece orchestra create really is orchestral – this is no ordinary big band. Despite its size, Schneider uses the orchestra to tell very personal stories: The Thompson Fields is set around the Midwestern township she grew up in, and is full of her relationship with the land and nature.
In tone it feels very much like her last large scale jazz work, the Grammy-award winning Sky Blue. In some respects The Thompson Fields sounds like a continuation of the earlier work. The music is evocative and impressionistic: it is big music for a big landscape. Despite the luscious arrangements, the music creates a real sense of space.
There are several long pieces in the collection which let the soloists produce some excellent work. The trombone and flugelhorn on The Monarch and the Milkweed, by Marshall Gilkes and Greg Gisbert respectively, soar in turn and then weave contrasting lines together. The opener, Walking by Flashlight features what Schneider notes to be a rare solo outing for alto clarinet, by Scott Robinson. Home and Nimbus (named for the storm clouds that hang over the prairie) feature saxophones, Rich Perry on a moody tenor solo on the former, a brooding alto from Steve Wilson on the latter.
For all the excellence of the soloists, this really is an ensemble piece. But Schneider manages a difficult trick of keeping such large scale music intimate and personal. Aside from the obvious connection she has to the pieces, two are dedicated to colleagues and influences – Home to the jazz impresario George Wein and A Potter’s Song to trumpeter Laurie Frink, who died in 2013. Featuring Gary Versace‘s accordion, it is a touching tribute.
Like all Schneider’s recordings since the 1990s, The Thompson Fields is released through artistShare, several of the pieces being commissioned by subscribers. It is available as a digital download or CD, which changes with a lavish booklet in which Schneider explains the stories behind each tune. Both formats give access to additional tracks and material which are not on the CD.