CD review

Maria Schneider Orchestra – “Data Lords”

Maria Schneider Orchestra – Data Lords
ArtistShare AS0176. CD review by Mike Collins)

There’s no chance of missing the themes that have inspired the music on Data Lords, Maria Schneider’s latest release through the crowd funding platform ArtistShare. Two CDs, The Digital World and Our Natural World, and on the back cover of the package, a poem that contrasts a dystopian vision of clutter, exploitation, isolation, manipulation with nurture, true connection, inspiration, freedom of thought, leave little doubt of the images conjured by the two worlds. Listening to the two sets, a few bars of either is enough to confirm which world you have entered, both are absorbing musical experiences.

The Digital World suite comprises five pieces that are episodic, built around jagged motifs, dissonant textures and dense improvisation jousting and battling with the ensemble. A World Lost opens with dark, cycling piano chords, gradually buried under layers of sound, first Ben Monder’s distorting guitar and then Rich Perry’s anguished tenor weaving through the slowly accumulating hubbub. Don’t Be Evil starts with a pantomime-like stomp that veers off into swirling, spiralling lines from Monder, ever present in this set, before pianist Frank Kimbrough sketches a more abstract atmosphere. CQ CQ, Is Anybody There is a riveting drama. Donny McCaslin’s tenor sways and swoops through ghostly sighs punctuated by occasional Morse Code signals from different directions; his lines accelerate and tumble, shadowed by Johnathan Blake’s drums, rising to a demented wail against a coruscating whine from the orchestra as a thudding groove emerges, and a maelstrom then envelopes a wildly electronically distorted trumpet solo from Greg Gisbert. The Digital World, is dark, exciting and mysterious by turn, filling the senses.

The gently swelling chords of Sanzenin herald The Natural World, Gary Versace on accordion, with a meandering beautifully shaped solo, signals more melodic material buoyed by resonant harmony. Stone Song is another bravura ensemble performance. Steve Wilson on soprano etches out the beginnings of a simple dancing melody that quickly becomes an apparently free-wheeling interchange between piano, then accordion, then the whole orchestra, conjuring melody on the hoof before reaching a triumphant series of chords to finish. Look Up is quintessential catch-the-breath Schneider lyricism, melody and harmony with irresistible momentum and an arrangement that injects energy seamlessly. Bluebird get’s stripped back and funky with Wilson on alto before Vesarce’s accordian takes flight. The Sun Waited For Me is a hymn to make the heart swell with an exultant solo from McCaslin on tenor to close.

Data Lords is an expansive and brilliantly realized project, presenting two starkly contrasting views of the digital and natural world and whatever your own take on that is, the music is compelling. Schneider’s writing is remarkable; the performance she conjures with the orchestra in places is quite extraordinary.

Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman

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