COMPOSERS: Maria Schneider
WORKS: Allégresse
PERFORMER: Maria Schneider (cond.) Maria Schneider Orchestra


On stage, Minnesota-born composer/bandleader Maria Schneider is a quietly powerful, almost mesmeric figure, so concentrated on her own music that she appears to sculpt her orchestra’s sound out of the air. Her previous two albums, Evanescence and Coming About, channelled this rapt intensity into vigorous, yet complex, many-hued big-band music which, while clearly demonstrating her stylistic debt to her main influence, Gil Evans, nevertheless established her as one of the most adventurous and original jazz composers of the Nineties.

Her stated aims for this, her third Enja album, however – ‘to create music that conveys beauty… softer hues and more intricate textures’ – signal a slight change of emphasis confirmed by her sparing but telling use of instruments – piccolo trumpet, oboe, English horn – more readily associated with classical music than with jazz.

The opening track, ‘Hang Gliding’, an appropriately airy theme full of soft glides and swoops of wind sounds over a hypnotically lilting rhythm, sets the tone; the highly emotive, floating, Evansesque crooning of ‘Nocturne’, and the gently insistent title track, maintain it perfectly. Underneath the delicacy, though, lies considerable tensile strength: the 20-minute ‘Dissolution’ slowly unfolds from a restrained, flute-led introduction, via a perky shuffle, to an almost rowdy, bluesy climax before coming to a wonderfully serene end; the closing, hauntingly lilting themes, ‘Journey Home’ and ‘Sea of Tranquility’, are both infused with a degree of quiet joyousness all too rare in big-band jazz.


It is this sureness in the creation of precise, subtle yet accessible moods that marks Schneider out as a major figure in contemporary jazz composition: her use of textural variety is simply peerless, her dynamic control faultless; overall, this is a moving, wholly absorbing, rich and wonderfully varied album. Chris Parker