Jazz concert reviewer: Maria Schneider with the NEC Jazz Orchestra
By Steve Feeney
Beaming with a shamanic mystery, Maria Schneider roamed the performance space, calling forth dark twists of the collective while summoning the anguished expressions of the soloists.
Maria Schneider with the NEC Jazz Orchestra, airing March 10.
I have long admired the work of composer and conductor Maria Schneider. I never had the chance to see her play live, but the next best thing has happened; I enjoyed the opportunity to watch an online concert broadcast from Boston again. In times of a pandemic, unfortunately, the security of a digital withdrawal remains necessary (for not too long, we hope).
After a weeklong residency as part of the New England Conservatory’s “Grow Your Art” program, Schneider took over the lead of the NEC Jazz Orchestra for a performance that was recorded on March 4th.
An orchestra of mostly masked and black-clad students was socially distant, seated in front of desks and microphones. Schneider, a very young man of 60, lamented that the musicians could not be arranged in a closer and more traditional formation. Still, this setup allowed viewers to fully appreciate his very lively leadership style. Schneider was a spectacle in itself, bringing an almostchoreography performance which brought the spirit of his music remarkably closer, which made it alive and in the moment.
All six pieces were performed with enormous subtlety and grace, with evidence of the lighter and (more recently) darker colors associated with Schneider’s art. There was also a lot of fire in the solos; these young performers are only a step or two away from professional careers (about which Schneider was brought in to offer down-to-earth advice during her residency). The sound mix was generally very good; maybe the drums were just a little too far apart.
The selections spanned the composer’s recorded career, with two tracks from her much-loved 2020 release Data lords (ArtistShare) front and center. (Artistic fuse review)
Given the brief introduction, in which Schneider wondered aloud if humans would be able to keep up with the advancement of artificial intelligence – and what might happen if we didn’t – the ominous tone of the music unmistakably sounded appropriate.
Beaming with a shamanic mystery, Schneider roamed the performance space appealing to the collective’s somber twists, while invoking the anguished expression of the soloists, notably Ben Mizach, who served a full frenzy of free-jazz. on alto sax.
“Sputnik” worked on his “brass-centric” 12-key progression with less dread, but the performance still emphasized another essential otherworld. Joey Rosin’s baritone saxophone solo sent signals to a distant musical world below.
“The Pretty Road” was a work of reflection. Schneider noted that the melody has autobiographical implications. Zoe Murphy blew a compelling bugle solo that was enhanced by well-timed electronic echoes and delays. A dreamlike reflection permeated the show. Inspired by the work of the poet Ted Kooser, “Walking by Flashlight” placed its riddle at the center of a gentle ballad, a riddle gently developed by Aaron Kaufman-Levine on alto sax.
A debut work titled “Gumba Blue” confirmed the composer’s jazz roots with a loaded post-bop center section, brought home by Michael Brehm on trumpet and George Behrakis on piano.
Adding a mix of Brazilian and Argentinian flavors, “Choro Dançado” ended the concert of over an hour. Stephanie Borani offered wordless vocals and Ian Buss relaxed on the tenor saxophone as Schneider took deft control of the rhythm through a fascinating series of physical cues for the group.
It was a memorable performance by a student orchestra lifted undoubtedly to new heights by the visit of a master musician at the height of his powers.
Steve feeney is originally from Maine and attended schools in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. He holds a Master of Arts in American and New England Studies from the University of Southern Maine. He began to criticize music as a freelance writer for the Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram in 1995. He was then asked to criticize theater and dance as well. Recently he added BroadwayWorld.com as an outlet and is happy to contribute now to Artistic fuse.