Maria Schneider Orchestra Leads a Journey in Nature

Schneider brings her 17-piece ensemble to Zellerbach Hall on Feb. 19 for a rare Bay Area concert.


Schneider goes to unexpected places.

Courtesy of Traywick Contemporary

As one of American music’s most vividly expressive composers, Maria Schneider draws on a vast realm for inspiration. Since founding her jazz orchestra in 1992, she has repeatedly turned to the natural world as a source for her sonic explorations. A protégé of the late pianist/arranger Gil Evans, who gained fame with a series of landmark collaborations with Miles Davis (particularly 1957’s Miles Ahead, and 1960’s Sketches of Spain), Schneider brings her 17-piece ensemble to Zellerbach Hall on Feb. 19 for a rare Bay Area concert.

The Cal Performances presentation focuses on her latest album, The Thompson Fields (ArtistShare), which won last year’s Grammy Award for best large jazz ensemble album. Packaged in a 28-page booklet with photos, illustrations, and text, the project provides keen insight into Schneider’s creative world, where a stormy skyscape can inspire her nine-minute tone poem “Nimbus” (featuring a gorgeous alto sax solo by Steve Wilson). Or how the quiet wonder of a symbiotic relationship leads to the melancholic 12-minute “The Monarch and the Milkweed” that builds to a stunning solo by trumpeter Greg Gisbert.

Like the best jazz composers, Schneider writes for specific musical personalities, and her band features a sumptuously talented cast, including reed expert Scott Robinson, trumpeter Mike Rodriguez, trombonist Ryan Keberle, and guitarist Lage Lund, all of whom are noted bandleaders in their own right. Open to sounds far beyond jazz, she has recorded with celebrated soprano Dawn Upshaw, earning lavish praise for the 2013 project Winter Morning Walks. She also earned a Grammy for her collaboration with David Bowie, “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime),” which led directly to his album Blackstar with a quartet led by Schneider’s tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin. Clearly, a journey with Maria Schneider can lead to unexpected places.

Maria Schneider Orchestra, 7 p.m., Feb. 19, Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley, $36-$86, 510- 642-9988,


This report appears in the February edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

Published online Feb. 14, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.

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