In a night filled with everything from big band charts to accordion-led ballads, Maria Schneider and her 18-person orchestra shared stories of nostalgia, home, and travel. Schneider, a recipient of two Grammy Awards and nine nominations, has a reputation for taking the traditional big band to new heights. While most big bands use improvisation as a means to show off the soloist, here each musician was instead a storyteller. They really functioned well as a unit under Schneider’s energetic direction.
Though she did not play, Schneider seemed to enjoy every moment whether she was leading the band or stepping aside to hear another improvisation. Her heart was certainly in her music and on her sleeve that night, as she shed a few tears while sharing stories about her dear friend, Laurie Frink. She recently passed away recently of cancer this summer after playing trumpet with the band for 21 years.
Frank Kimbrough provided beautiful introduction of several of the evening’s songs. “Concert in the Garden” brought a nostalgic Parisian flair featuring Gary Versace on the accordion, an instrument that is not common among traditional big bands.
The mood changed with the next piece, “Gumba Blue,” which she dedicated to her mother. “You know the stuff you find in the fridge and mix together?” said Schneider, “We call that Gumba.” The song perfectly matched the description, as the percussive feel clashed with blaring trumpets to create a unique mixture of sounds.
“Dance You Monster to My Soft Song” was a musical interpretation of a painting of a girl with a crying monster. Schneider explained that she saw the girl as a little more “sadistic” because she was subjecting this monster to her not-so-soft song. I could see the picture painted before my eyes as the screeching horns created chaos while a slower section was dedicated to a lamenting saxophone line, seemingly signifying the crying monster.
The tenor saxophone-led song “The Thompson Fields” whisked us back to Schnieder’s hometown of Windom, Minnesota, where she reminisced about climbing a silo at her friend’s farm and seeing the waves of the field of green beans.
Schneider brought the focus back to honoring Laurie Frink by dedicating the encore called “Walking by Flashlight,” to her. The song is set to a poem by Ted Kooser, who went on daily walks at night after being diagnosed with cancer. Although it was unsung, Scott Robinson played it beautifully on the tenor saxophone.
If the Maria Schneider Orchestra visits your town, make sure you buy tickets. It is surely an experience you won’t want to miss.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Maria Schneider Orchestra played for one-night-only on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center – at the intersection of Stadium Drive and Route 193 at University of Maryland, in College Park, MD. For upcoming events, please check their calendar of events.
Maria Schneider’s website.