AMN Reviews: Maria Schneider Orchestra – Data Lords (2020; Artistshare)

Composer Maria Schneider is someone that I have been aware of in my periphery for years and yet somehow this is the first album of hers that I have actually heard. While I could make the usual excuses about being the overwhelmed music supporter, ultimately it is my fault for not seeking her out earlier. Her accolades are numerous, including several Grammies.

Schneider’s thing is tightly-structured, big-band instrumental music, that, at least on this two-album recording, dances around the edges of what might be considered adventurous jazz without going overtly outside. Joining her are a cast of characters, including several on each of flute, clarinet, sax, trumpet, flugelhorn, and trombone. In addition, a semblance of a rock band (guitar, piano, bass, and drums) is also included in her orchestra. The overall result is a set of sweeping tracks with walls of horns providing thick textures that support Schneider’s knotty compositions.

Data Lords is an exploration of the juxtapositioning of our digital and non-digital worlds. In fact, the first album, aptly subtitled The Digital World, makes no attempt to hide its inspiration. Highlights include Don’t Be Evil, featuring leaping multi-layered themes accompanied by pointed guitar work from Ben Monder. CQ CQ, Is Anybody There?, continuing this thread, has a labyrinthine set of staccato rhythms that are based on Morse code patterns. Over this, Donny McCaslin’s sax and Greg Gisbert’s trumpet duel with an intensity bordering on anxiety. Another track, Sputnik is an appropriately spacious and cinematic piece.

The second album, Our Natural World, is a different animal. It provides a more pastoral setting for tunes that are on the playful and mellow side. While just as sophisticated and vivid as The Digital World, these pieces play to more positive emotions – an attempt to evoke the human connection that can be missing from our digital existence.

Various listeners may prefer one of these efforts more than the other or both equally.  Regardless, Data Lords is a more than worthwhile offering whether you are a veteran of Schneider’s work, or a newcomer like me. Further, the packaging that comes with the CD is as rich as the music, with Schneider’s detailed liner notes on each track.

Highly recommended.