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Modern Jazz: CD review, Maria Schneider Orchestra's "Sky Blue"

The Audiophiliac reviews "Sky Blue" by the Maria Schneider Orchestra

Maria Schneider is a jazz composer, but on "Sky Blue" (artistShare) her music doesn't immediately sound like jazz--it's more meditative and expansive than what you might expect--it glides more than grooves. On paper her group, which has been together since 1988, looks like a big band, but it definitely sounds like an orchestra.

Maria conducts! Steve Guttenberg

I recently spoke with Schneider about her music and she said "I want to create beauty and hopefully each time you listen to the CD, you'll hear something new." Well, with arrangements as densely layered as Schneider's that's bound to happen, and the free flowing improvisations by the soloists and rhythm players provide another dimension to the sound. "Aires de Lando" kicks off with an intriguing Peruvian rhythm that sneaks up you and then, wham, you realize Scott Robinson's clarinet is taking on an Eastern European, almost klezmer-ish vibe. "Cerulean Skies" starts with the orchestra making bird sounds with their mouths, and "Rich's Place" feels like the coda to a dark murder mystery set in 1950s San Francisco. There are times the CD evokes the classic feel of a Gil Evans/Miles Davis collaboration like "Sketches of Spain." The CD's five tracks are all long, the shortest is 8:06, so there's plenty of time for Schneider's ideas to develop. She provides insightful liner notes for listeners who want to delve deeper into the meanings of the songs.

The sound quality is wonderfully rich and organic, which perfectly frames the music; "Sky Blue" is available on her website. While you're there check out Schneider's "Concert in the Garden" CD that won a Grammy in 2004. Oh, and the orchestra is a bona fide working unit that regularly performs concerts. The tour schedule's on the website.