Not only did I get up at 4:30 yesterday morning, but I didn’t go to sleep prior to that time (hence it would be closer to the truth to say that I got out of bed at 4:30 yesterday morning). There followed hours and hours and hours of travel, on the ground and in the sky, at the end of which I somehow managed to get to Maria Schneider’s Hunter College concert on time. It was worth it, absolutely.
I’m too tired to go on at length, but the centerpiece of the evening was the world premiere of “Concert in the Garden,” a new piece Schneider wrote for her big band plus Gary Versace on accordion and Luciana Souza on vocals. The title comes from a poem by Octavio Paz (see above), and the music is a Messiaen-like tapestry of idealized bird calls–a full-fledged piece of jazz impressionism, unusually rich and involving.
After the intermission, the band played a revised version of Bulerias, Soleas y Rumbas, premiered last January at Lincoln Center, an occasion about which I wrote as follows in my Washington Post column:
Jazz at Lincoln Center has never done anything more important than commissioning this piece. It’s no secret that Schneider is the foremost big-band composer of her generation, but this powerful large-scale work, in which she blends jazz and flamenco with the skill of an alchemist, is so good that I hesitate to limit its significance by calling it big-band music, or even jazz. It is as tightly woven and emotionally compelling as a symphony, and I think it ought to be seriously considered for next year’s Pulitzer Prize in music. For that matter, I’m damned if I know why Schneider hasn’t received a MacArthur Fellowship. I can’t think of anyone in jazz–or any other art form–who deserves it more.
This time around, Schneider added a flamenco dancer, La Conja, to thrilling effect, and the piece itself was even more impressive on second hearing. If you missed it, the Maria Schneider Orchestra will be going into the studio in a couple of weeks to record a new album, on which Bulerias, Soleas y Rumbas will figure prominently.
Warning: Schneider is no longer selling her CDs in stores, so to buy this one, you’ll need to go to her Web site and sign up. Do it now–and while you’re at it, mark your calendar for March 18, April 29, and June 17, the three remaining performances in the Maria Schneider Orchestra’s Hunter College concert series. I really, truly flew all the way back from Smalltown, U.S.A., just to hear this one, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Next time, I’ll make sure I don’t have to.