There have been very few orchestral composers in jazz who achieved creative success, if only because such a combination of talents--from logistics to force of will to the openness to input from the players--is wildly rare. Maria Schneider, once a protégée of Gil Evans, has been demonstrating those talents since her orchestra's debut in 1994, Evanescence
. The vagaries of big bands make working relationships particularly important, and Schneider is attuned to every nuance and timbre of her musicians. It shows in the superb sectional play, the sensitivity to dynamics, and the gorgeous combinations of alto flutes, English horn, clarinets, and piccolo trumpet. Each of Schneider's pieces here is a full-fledged composition, a rich tapestry filled with subtle shifts in voicing, airy highs or welling depths, and frequent surprise. Her expressive range is vast, from the opening "Hang Gliding," air-borne on a Brazilian beat, to the unfolding mysteries of the 21-minute "Dissolution," including reed writing that creates the illusion of strings.
At the same time, she's developed a distinctive tonal language that suggests a suite of linked pieces. Each work features just one or two soloists, and there's an uncanny relationship between the writing and improvising, including Frank Kimbrough's crystalline piano on "Nocturne," a piece that suggests Evans's writing for Sketches of Spain, and Ben Monder's acutely focused, energetic guitar on "Journey Home." The piquant "Allegresse" is a continuous evolution of relations between the orchestra, Ingrid Jensen on flügelhorn and harmon-muted trumpet, and Rich Perry on tenor saxophone. --Stuart Broomer