sat 31/10/2020

Album: Maria Schneider Orchestra – Data Lords | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Maria Schneider Orchestra – Data Lords

Album: Maria Schneider Orchestra – Data Lords

A great double album inhabiting two worlds

It is five years since Maria Schneider’s The Thompson Fields was released – and hailed as a masterpiece – so this new two-disc set has been eagerly awaited. It doesn’t disappoint. Data Lords is a major piece of work. This “story of two worlds” as the album’s strap-line has it, is two contrasting albums which inhabit very different emotional territory.

It is five years since Maria Schneider’s The Thompson Fields was released – and hailed as a masterpiece – so this new two-disc set has been eagerly awaited. It doesn’t disappoint. Data Lords is a major piece of work. This “story of two worlds” as the album’s strap-line has it, is two contrasting albums which inhabit very different emotional territory.

The first of the two is entitled The Digital World. For many years, Maria Schneider has been an assiduous, forthright and highly articulate defender of the rights of creators in the face of the land-grab by the data companies. It is a subject on which she has testified in front of the US’s Congressional Subcommittee on Intellectual Property. “Musicians have been the canary in the coal mine,” she says. “We were the first to be used and traded for data.” This is a very deeply held and life-long conviction for Schneider. Her father was an inventor employed by the Kimberly-Clark corporation, so the company owned every single one of his inventions. “So I was very aware” she has said, “of what it meant for a man to create something and have pride in his inventions. I grew up with that.”

What is unusual in this album is that these convictions don’t just determine the means of distribution of the music   it is available exclusively via mariaschneider.com  but they find their way into the very fabric of the music itself. The message, the rancour, the sense of injustice are deeply embedded in every moment of the first album. And yet Schneider’s craft and judgment are such that music in the eerie, dystopian world has the marvellous feeling for structure, pacing and often sheer beauty that listeners who know Schneider’s music will be expecting.

The slow-paced “Sputnik” imagining satellites orbiting the earth is portentous, Parsifal-like, and has a sense of coming from somewhere very deep and dark. “Don’t Be Evil”, taking Google's former motto, is mocking like an acerbic Kurt Weill tango. It starts with snarling muted trumpets, and has a curiously, wilfully oblique ending. And when the last track, “Data Lords” finally loses momentum and seems to fall exhausted into a chaotic heap, one has the sense that every sound, every detail, every last cheep and blip has earned its place.

The second disc Our Natural World is a complete contrast. It is epic, glorious. Schneider (photo above by Dina Regine) has said of her Minnesota upbringing that “ I always thought I came from a special place...Maybe all that space makes you fill it in with your mind.” And devotees of Schneider’s work can go straight to tracks like “Braided Together” and “Bluebird” where they recognize all of the poise, poetry and divine sense of pacing that they know well.

There are instrumental glories throughout this album, but the work of the low brass both as section and as individuals is quite unbelievable and is caught exceptionally well on the recording. Whereas Strauss (or was it Stravinsky?) once said “don’t look at the trombones, it only encourages them", I had the sense that Maria Schneider must keep looking at the trombones a lot. And they certainly deliver here.

After three complete listens, this is an album which, it feels, is only just starting to reveal its two-fold essence.  The album, released today, will deservedly be at or near the top of the jazz year-end lists Thoroughly recommended.

@sebscotney

A marvellous feeling for structure, pacing and often sheer beauty

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Average: 5 (1 vote)

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