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Maria Schneider - The Thompson Fields / Stereophile

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The world's leading figure in orchestral jazz has not released a jazz recording in eight years. In her liner notes, Maria Schneider says, "This album was funded by my ArtistShare fan base. Making a recording like this is becoming increasingly difficult and would now be impossible without the generous support of my many participants."

Today, big jazz bands rarely tour. Some are stable entities, but on a part-time basis. Most, like Schneider's, come together for projects, then go their separate ways. Yet against all odds, large-ensemble jazz survives because no other format offers its range of expression and its power.

Schneider worked with Gil Evans toward the end of his life, as copyist and collaborator. She is his direct artistic descendant. Like Evans, she uses orchestral colors and dynamics to devise dramatic narratives. To say that her work is the feminine version of Evans is too simple. Her touch is lighter and sometimes more whimsical, but her capacity for grandeur is just as credible. Her music is more intimate, more explicitly autobiographical.

She has said, "The foundation of my life is deeply embedded in the landscape." Her new album, The Thompson Fields, is a 77-minute tone poem to the land where she grew up, in southwestern Minnesota: its ever-changing light, its starkness, its spectacular skies, its extremes of weather. For Schneider, sensory perception and emotional memory are inextricable.