If your idea of a bodacious big band is some rampaging elephant, trunk raised, rip-snorting willy-nilly across the sonic prairie, you haven't heard master arranger Maria Schneider and her refined 19-piece orchestra. A New York-based band that favors subtlety over brutish behavior, the MSO sneaks up on your ears.
Like restless felines, the ensemble's soloists paw their way through Schneider's intricate maze of brass and woodwinds. When the music changes--and Schneider's charts shift constantly--the soloists react accordingly. They yowl. They purr. And sometimes they stop dead in their tracks, stone silent, and allow Schneider's breathtakingly lovely writing to surge to the fore.
Brimming with moody harmonic ambiguity, Schneider's often introspective compositions will remind connoisseurs of Gil Evans' classic arrangements for trumpeter Miles Davis. This is no accident, as she worked for Evans just before his death in 1988.
The two-headed ghost of Evans-Davis, in fact, hovers over portions Allegresse--and its presence is a positive one. A la Miles with a mute plugged in his horn, sputtering Ingrid Jensen spins a multi-colored thread of trumpet and flugelhorn on the title cut. Later, saxophonist Tim Ries first recalls Wayne Shorter, a favorite partner of Davis, and then a snake charmer in full trance on "Dissolution," a 21-minute tour de force commissioned by the American Dance Festival.
Allegresse is Schneider's third CD for the enterprising German imprint, enja. The first two copped Grammy nominations. If there's any justice in such a contest, No. 3's the charm.