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On her latest orchestral masterwork, Maria Schneider worked to dramatize humanity's struggle between nature and technology / JazzTimes

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"The roughest thing is my mom," composer and bandleader Maria Schneider  says over the phone on a recent summer morning, answering the first question of almost every conversation in the COVID-19 era: How are you holding up? The New York-based composer/conductor has been in grateful, high gear, safe and healthy at her country home while preparing the release of a new two-record set by the Maria Schneider Orchestra, Data Lords. But Schneider, who grew up in the small farming town of Windom, Minnesota, misses her mother, who's turning 96 in Minneapolis, "in a place where nobody can visit her because they're protecting people.

"And that's good," Schneider goes on. "But I had this dream where I was in a hotel trying to see her and the elevator went to a negative-50th floor and I couldn't get back to her." She laughs brightly, something she does often in conversation. "I woke up and thought, ‘Well, I know what that's about: When am I going to see Mom again?'

Schneider, 59, will not see the road or be in the same room with her orchestra any time soon. But she is pressing forward with Data Lords, her first album since 2015's The Thompson Fields, out via ArtistShare, the fan-funding platform that has issued her work since 2004's Grammy-winning Concert in the Garden. Consisting of 11 pieces over 97 minutes, Data Lords is a boldly conceptual immersion in a critical duality of modern life, now compounded by truly viral calamity: the corporate and political manipulation of our internet addictions (the first disc, subtitled The Digital World) and the endangered wonder and sanctuary around us, made even more remote by lockdown (the second disc, The Natural World).

"I was just writing," Schneider says of the album's thematic genesis. "It's what I always do-write music, then think, ‘It's time to record again.'" But it was "a struggle" to make sense of the growing "hodgepodge" until visual artist Justin Freed, a friend and ArtistShare participant, suggested she make two albums. "I started analyzing the music, analyzing myself: ‘You're thinking about Google a bit too much, girl. And here I can tell you spent some time weeding and watching your bluebirds' nest.' I thought, ‘Wow, this is the struggle, the yin and yang of our life.'"      (photo: Briene Lermitte)

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