Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Exploring conflicts between our digital and natural worlds – through music

Composer, bandleader and NEA Jazz Master Maria Schneider’s creativity knows no bounds. Her stellar music, voiced by her longstanding Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra, has drawn on many influences and inspirations throughout her career.

Maria Schneider backstage at Newport, 2017

Some of her earliest intricate and colorful works were prompted by memories of imaginary monsters conjured up in her Minnesota childhood. A formidable string of recordings by her 18-piece big band start with 1994’s Evanescence (Enja), in part a tribute to her mentor, the late Gil Evans.

Her newest project, the two-disc recording Data Lords, is just out as her fifth project on the ArtistShare label, the world‘s first crowd-funding internet arts platform. It is a very strong departure from her Grammy-winning 2015 release The Thompson Fields. 

Data Lords is about “the impact that the data-hungry digital world has had on our lives,” Schneider says, and the natural world that has long been rooted in her music.

Disc One, titled “The Digital World,” focuses on the oft-unsettling digital side of the equation. The composition titles pretty much speak for themselves, though Schneider has penned thoughtful notes in the CD booklet that speak to the inspirations behind and intent of each work. The compositions on “The Digital World” are: “A World Lost,” “Don’t Be Evil,” “CQ, CQ, Is Anbody There?,” the other-worldly “Sputnik” and “Data Lords.” That title track takes aim at the giant data companies that track the minutae of our everyday lives as artificial intelligence increases its hold.

Disc Two, “Our Natural World,” celebrates the magic and beauty of the physical world around is and is a balm for what Schneider describes as "the relentless noise of our digital world.” Those tracks are “Sanzenin,” inspired by the lush, meditative gardens surrounding Kyoto, Japan’s Sanzen-in Buddhist temple, the artful “Stone Song,” “Look Up,” “Bluebird,” and two Ted Kooser poetry-inspired pieces, “Braided Together” and “The Sun Waited For Me.”

Standout soloists on this project include accordionist Gary Versace, guitarist Ben Monder, alto saxophonist Dave Pietro, baritone saxophonist Scott Robinson, soprano/alto saxophonist Steve Wilson, tenor saxophonists Donny McCaslin and Rich Perry, trombonists Marshall Gilkes and Ryan Keberle, and trumpeter Mike Rodriguez.

“Look Up” is a clever piece that features Gilkes and pianist Frank Kimbrough. As its melody spirals up, this is a musical reminder to indeed look up: up at the sky, up at the birds or, as Schneider says, “simply at each other.”

In other words, look up from those laptop, iPad and smartphone screens once in a while -- and savor the things around us that aren’t plugged in to something. Except your music player, of course, because this powerful project deserves repeat listenings.