Another great self-produced album from one of the leading ladies in jazz today – her sixth – featuring her 17-piece big band with many guest artists. Among the soloists are multi-reedmen Steve Wilson and Charles Pillow, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, and pianist Frank Kimbrough. Guests include vocalist Luciana Souza on two tracks, keyboardist Gary Versace playing accordion on three tracks and two added performers on various Latin percussion for a few tracks. A separate credit is listed for all the people who supplied bird sounds for the track Cerulean Skies, which was inspired by Maria’s love of birds.
Schneider penned all the notes in the multipage booklet – nice to have something like this from the artist instead of the just-photos ECM approach. She describes the five extended compositions as personal experiences transmuted into sound, and that two of them became sonic stories. The first, at over 13 minutes length – The ‘Pretty’ Road – is a reminiscence of a hill from which she could view the town where she was brought up in Minnesota, and the homes, schools and church where so much of her early life took place. Aires de Lando was inspired by Schneider’s visits to Peru and her work with Peruvian musicians. It has a lovely clarinet solo by Scott Robinson. The title tune of the CD came from a simile proffered by the doctor of a good friend who passed away shortly before this new piece was completed. It envisioned clouds as being in flux and inevitably going away but the blue sky as constant and infinite, representing reality.
Schneider has lately been adding a new element to her attractive melodies and harmonies: a variety of different time signatures – a la Don Ellis’ Band – and dance rhythms from various South American cultures, not just Peru. This gives an interesting depth and density to her compositions, some of them – such as Cerulean Skies – reminding me of Pat Metheny’s nature-oriented pieces. The LA Times compared the level of imagination in her scores to the music of her predecessors Ellington and Gil Evans.
TrackList: The ‘Pretty’ Road, Aires de Lando, Rich’s Piece, Cerulean Skies, Sky Blue
– John Henry