Maria Schneider

COMPOSERS: Maria Schneider
LABELS: artistShare
ALBUM TITLE: Sky Blue
PERFORMER: Maria Schneider Orchestra
CATALOGUE NO: AS 0065
Anything new from Maria Schneider is always welcome, but this recent release on the unique artistShare label (recordings are funded by subscription-like ‘micropayments’ from supporters) is almost more than we deserve. At a time when any band with more than ten players tends to be passed off as a ‘jazz orchestra’, Schneider not only musters a 21-piece unit covering over 50 instruments but writes and arranges for this behemoth with an orchestral sense that borders on the astonishing, particularly in the case of the band’s eight-piece brass section. The pieces themselves range from euphonious anthems and folksy ballads to a pleasantly wobbly tango, but in each case the arrangements’ elegance belies the intense activity going on below the surface, with rich chord structures and insinuating melodies to the fore. Performed with commitment and sonically faultless, this CD is easily one of the year’s best so far.

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Roger Thomas