As much in the American grain as Aaron Copland, William Carlos Williams, or Emily Dickenson, the celebrated composer/orchestrator and conductor/bandleader Maria Schneider is a great, lyrical celebrator of memory, home, and friendship in her latest masterwork recording, The Thompson Fields.
On this Grammy Award-winning release on the fan-based ArtistShare label, Schneider is also the poet laureate of the environment and the wonders of nature ranging from the dramatic starkness of the landscape of her home state Minnesota to the intense sky and weather of the terrible beauty born of a wild prairie storm.
Other evocative pieces celebrate the evolutionary miracles of the Monarch butterfly and the aptly named bird of paradise. Heroic creatures, they’re both depicted in sonic images of layered meanings, demonstrating that there are at least 13 ways to look at nature’s complex, epoch cycles and the creation of all things bright and beautiful.
You can hear the music conjured by Schneider and her 18-piece ensemble on back-to-back live performances this weekend on regional college campuses as they appear Friday, April 8, at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, and on Saturday, April 9, at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Downbeat time for both concerts is 8:00 pm.
If there’s a single unifying motif for Schneider’s poetic compositions, sublime sense-of-place, and tightly bonded, all-star orchestra on The Thompson Fields, it is, quite simply, beauty.
Not the hackneyed greeting card version of beauty, but rather a visionary, painterly view of profound depth and width, flowing with expressions of joy, wonder, and melancholy. Each is a deeply felt remembrance of things past -- even of loved ones who have passed -- while simultaneously an exultant celebration of all things great and small living in the present moment.
Right from the opener, "Walking By Flashlight" -- a lovely portrait of a just-before-dawn morning walk inspired by a poem by Ted Kooser -- beauty and serenity reign. The mood of this light-and-shadow etched tone poem is accentuated by reed player Scott Robinson’s reflections on the unique sounding but too infrequently heard alto clarinet.
The music, which itself walks in beauty like the night, is an atmospheric analog of what the poet Kooser sees of nature within “the circle of light” cast by his flashlight, a torch that small creatures lurking in the darkness see as a “man with the moon on a leash.”
At the heart of the matter are two exceptionally expressive gems. One is the title track, "The Thompson Fields," a nostalgic recollection inspired by looking down from a silo onto a picturesque farm and billowing fields in Schneider’s childhood hometown of Windom, Minnesota.
The second is "Home," a celebration of the essence of the deep archetypal emotions everyone feels for home and family roots that, sometimes vivid, sometimes ghostly, forever connect in memory.
Along with Schneider’s hallmark elegant textures, kaleidoscopic colors, and lush harmonies, these two pieces feature her ensemble’s expressive solo strength. Pianist Frank Kimbrough and guitarist Lage Lund, for example, help cultivate the rich, pastoral ambience of Thompson Fields. Tenor saxophonist Rich Perry’s moving solo on "Home" evokes home as not just a physical abode, but as an emotionally rich, loving landscape where myriad memories abide, even the bittersweet.
Thanks to the fortuitous juxtaposition of the UConn and UMass dates, you can immerse yourself both nights in this unique orchestral music that, while evoking jazz and classical music, is beyond category, exuding a beauty and truth all its own.
At UConn, the orchestra plays at the cozy, candlelit cabaret series at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets: $30.00 to $45.00. Information: jorgensen.uconn.edu or (860) 486-4226. At UMass, it performs at the Fine Arts Center Concert Hall. Tickets: $40.00, $35.00, and $20.00 and $10.00 for students from designated area colleges and those 17 and under. Information: (413)-545-2511.
Potentate Plays Ridgefield Playhouse
Multi-Grammy Award-winning bassist Christian McBride, an already long-established paragon of jazz royalty at just 43, returns to Connecticut to perform this weekend bearing yet another jewel in his crown as a music potentate.
McBride, who leads his power-packed trio on Sunday, April 10, at 8:00 pm at The Ridgefield Playhouse, was recently named artistic director of the Newport Jazz Festival, succeeding the festival’s legendary, 90-year co-founder and world-famous impresario George Wein in that crucial curatorial role.
McBride will begin strategic planning for festival fare with Wein and longtime Wein associate Danny Melnick, who moves from associate producer to producer. Eventually, McBride will take over the curatorial reins for the 2017 festival from Wein, the prime mover, mind, body, and soul for Newport since its inception in 1954.
Wein, the idealistic yet pragmatic Big Daddy of the mega-jazz festival concept, has hailed McBride “as the beacon of the future of the Newport Jazz Festival.” Wein calls McBride, who’s known for his charm and savvy both on and off the bandstand, “the special someone to continue my legacy.”
Since this summer’s lineup is already in place, McBride’s individual imprint as Wein’s apostolic successor as curator won’t be apparent on-stage until next year’s Newport Festival.
McBride, a swinging, straight-ahead jazz master who’s also right at home with funk, fusion, and other genres, leads his robust jazz trio at the Ridgefield Playhouse’s classy Cheese and Wine Evening of Art, Wine, and Jazz Series. His collaborators are the great, young pianist Christian Sands and drummer Jerome Jennings.
Since his first appearance at Newport at 19 with a young band presciently named Jazz Futures, McBride has performed there many times. He plays again at the festival, which runs July 29-July 31, with Chick Corea’s Trilogy.
Festivities at the Ridgefield Playhouse kick off in the lobby at 7:15 pm with a complimentary wine tasting and an exhibit by photographer Roy Weinstein.
Then it’s on to McBride, who was the prince of wails long before Wein, a mythic jazz monarch, crowned him as artistic director, curator of the festival’s historic legacy and taste-making shaper of its present and future potential. Tickets: $42.50 at ridgefieldplayhouse.org and (203) 438-5795.
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