Just as it's not possible for Ethan to write impartially about Bill McHenry, I am hardly the one to give you a disinterested account of Maria Schneider's Thanksgiving week run at Jazz Standard. Nate Chinen has some on-point observations -- me, I reliably revert to slack-jawed fanboy mode whenever I hear the band. I went late on Friday night -- a bit too late, as I missed the opening of the set-opener, Allegresse, and walked into Ingrid Jensen's effects-enhanced trumpet solo in medias res. The electronics serve the music well, although the best moment came later when Ingrid and saxophonist Steve Wilson sparred while drummer Kendrick Scott surged.
This was a real thrown-in-the-deep-end situation for Kendrick, subbing for Clarence Penn in the middle of the run with no opportunity for rehearsal. Maria's music lives and dies by the drummer -- it's by far the most demanding and elusive role in the band, and most of the truly vital information about how to play it can't be conveyed on the page. There aren't many drummers who could have responded as well as Kendrick did under that kind of pressure, navigating the whitewater rapids of Allegresse, the stuttering gestures of Choro Dançado and the unmetered balladry of Rich's Piece, reading like a madman but bringing his own flow to the music.
(I was lucky enough to have Kendrick play with Secret Society around this time last year -- you can listen to that show here.)
The band closed the final, too-short set with a piece they haven't played in many years. I'm very glad to have caught it, as this is the tune that quite literally changed my life -- for better or for worse, there is simply no way Secret Society would exist if I hadn't been slain by Wrygly back in '94. (That first Maria Schneider record could be the jazz The Velvet Underground and Nico -- everyone who heard it started a big band.) Charlie Pillow, Marshall Gilkes, and Ben Monder contributed some incendiary solos, but really, the band had me at the first three chords. I still think this is the greatest thing Maria has ever written.
Despite her stratospheric reputation in the jazz press, Maria seems paradoxically underrated (or sometimes just flat-out unknown) by the new music intelligentsia. Part of this has to do with her unabashed romanticism -- for a lot of the self-styled avant-garde, it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that skronk -- and, of course, her enviable popularity inevitably generates a certain amount of skeptical backlash. But if we're going to celebrate Osvaldo Golijov's remarkable musical alchemy and vivid orchestration -- and I certainly count myself among his admirers -- then we should also recognize that Maria has for almost 15 years now been working brilliantly with many of the same ingredients, transmuting deep reserves of contemporary jazz, flamenco, Brazilian music, Peruvian music, pop songcraft, and a classically-informed but entirely innovative approach to sound, color and structural unity. I can't help but feel that there is something fundamentally wrong with people who would dismiss music of such astounding vitality and artistry because it happens also to be very pretty.
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