MSJO Residency Quintet

CBSO Centre, Birmingham UK

The five members of the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra could have chosen to treat this as a kind of after-show jam, content to take the stand with no prior plans, loosen their ties and unwind in between the European tour they had just completed and the traditional Fall week at The Jazz Standard in New York they are about to begin. But no, tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, trumpeter Mike Rodriguez, pianist Frank Kimbrough, double bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Johnathan Blake, chose to prepare some tunes and to present them in full concert manner, albeit a friendly and relaxed one.

And what a treat this was. After the formality and relative distance of a Symphony Hall audience experience, to be within almost touching distance of the musicians is something of a thrill in itself. To hear the music they create between them raises the happiness level still further and to feel the rapport and appreciation among these musicians acts as a real inspiration.

They opened with Choro Dançado “from our employer” as McCaslin said, indicating an appreciatively beaming Maria Schneider seated in the  front row. From there it was a mixture of tunes written by the band’s members – Kimbrough’s Meantime, Rodriguez’s Wishful Thinking, Anderson’s Will Call, McCaslin’s Glory and an as yet untitled piece by Blake – and interpretations of two jazz classics: Thelonious Monk’s Monk’s Dream and the Rodgers and Hart standard My Funny Valentine.

The delights were far too numerous to mention but they included McCaslin’s ability to find the longest and most creative route possible from one end of a saxophone to the other (where does he find those patterns of notes?); Rodriguez’s gleaming tone and rock-solid turn of phrase coupled with a deeply romantic sensibility, especially on his own ballad; Kimbrough’s sureness in choosing just the right harmony and line to suit the song and the mood, even when that meant just the most delicate and nuanced colouring of the familiar as in Valentine; Anderson’s unerring sense of groove; and the simply blissful beauty of Blake’s brushwork.

The most valuable lesson I took away from this performance was one we all know but still need to be reminded – that it’s not necessary always to be re-inventing the wheel; the wheel is pretty lovely in the first place and sometimes just giving it the love and care it deserves, and bringing one’s own personality to bear upon it, is not only enough, it’s ultimately really all that matters.

One of the Birmingham Conservatoire student bands that the Schneider musicians had been teaching during the preceding days played a short, sweet opening set. Josh Schofield, Josh Tagg, Elliott Sansom, Ben Muirhead and Gwilym Jones showed they had learnt that valuable lesson too – they were terrific.

Categories: Live review

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