Maria Schneider’s first three albums were all Grammy-nominated. Yet there was a four-year wait for her fourth CD. Schneider records infrequently because she writes for large ensembles, which are subject to the harsh constraints of jazz economics. Schneider hopes she has found a solution to this dilemma: Concert in the Garden will be sold exclusively through mariaschneider.com. Her new album is more ambitious (consisting of three extended compositions), more tilted toward the classical side of Schneider’s jazz/classical balance, and more influenced by Spanish, flamenco and Brazilian forms than any of her previous works.
Because Schneider’s music is so subtly shaded, longer pieces are challenged to sustain narrative interest and urgency over time. The 12-minute opening title track is not entirely successful in this regard. The solos from guitarist Ben Monder and pianist Frank Kimbrough are not strong enough to provide sufficient contrast to the piece’s slow, hovering progress. But the other two works, “Three Romances” and “Buleria, Solea y Rumba,” are revelatory in their complete realization. The first romance, “Choro Dancado,” is a meticulous tapestry of formal motives, one of which inspires an epic, sideways, sliding tenor saxophone solo by Rich Perry. The second, “Pas de Deux,” gathers intensity so gradually that you do not feel it coming. Suddenly, the piece is no longer quiet, and Ingrid Jensen (on flugelhorn) and Charles Pillow (on soprano sax) are almost wailing—if wailing can be conducted with such elegance. The last romance, “Danca Ilusoria,” is one long, exhaustively elaborated, through-composed line, with jewel-like solos embedded in it from Kimbrough and trombonist Larry Farrell. “Buleria, Solea y Rumba” begins softly, but Donny McCaslin’s plaintive tenor saxophone cries carry on over the orchestra’s whispers in a gradual twisting ascent that pulls the band with him and reaches an exhilarating catharsis.