The Maria Schneider Orchestra at the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival: Live Last Night

Live Last Night

How is it possible that the Maria Schneider Orchestra hasn't performed at the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival since 1997? No doubt that question occurred to a lot of listeners at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on Saturday night, when the ensemble brought the 14th edition of the festival to a sublime and stirring close.

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

During an extended performance that nevertheless seemed all too brief, the symphonic and cinematic qualities that make Schneider's compositions so appealing were constantly on display.

The elegant deployment of various woodwinds, the Gil Evans-inspired harmonic palette, the meticulously contoured thematic episodes, the dramatic surges and sudden dissolves -- all those Schneider trademarks and others came into play as the ensemble moved through a series of original pieces, including wonderfully evocative performances of "Concert in the Garden" and "Cerulean Skies."

Although Schneider occasionally described how she came to write an orchestration, much of the music spoke eloquently for itself, and never more so than when soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson infused "Sky Blue" with an elegiac soulfulness.

Composition, albeit on a smaller scale, was also the focus during the opening sets. The Anne Drummond Quartet's performance was largely distinguished by her writing, which often made lyrical use of her flute against a vibrantly polyrhythmic backdrop. Vocalist Carmen Lundy, in terrific voice, followed with a delightful preview of her forthcoming CD, "Solomente." The self-penned tunes -- by turns spirited, romantic and poetic -- were colorfully reconfigured by a seasoned quartet featuring pianist Bill O'Connell, bassist Kenny Davis, drummer Steve Williams and percussionist Mayra Casales.

Two honors were bestowed over the weekend. Drummer-bandleader Sherrie Maricle received the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Award, and pianist Carmen Staff took top honors in the festival's annual jazz competition.

-- MIKE JOYCE

By J. Freedom du Lac |  May 17, 2009; 8:48 PM ET Live Last Night
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I was fortunate to be in the sold out audience on Saturday night, and while I really like and admire Maria Schneider, the night absolutely belonged to Carmen Lundy! She continues to astonish and amaze with her unique and multi-talents, and truly embodies the spirit of Jazz and Mary Lou Williams. "Terrific" hardly begins to describe Ms. Lundy's voice - it is a stunning instrument of pure tone and warm and rich colors. Clearly, her Songbook should become a requirement for all Jazz musicians. The only sad note was that her set was much too short.

Posted by: johmar1 | May 19, 2009 2:49 PM

We were in the audience for the Saturday night concert and while we felt that Carmen Lundy has a truly wonderful voice we were astonished by incredibly bland and trite lyrics of some of her songs, especially the Gossip number and the one dedicated to children. Her other songs were better but not by much. A less than wonderful evening compared to numerous enjoyable ones we have recently enjoyed at the KC Jazz Club.

Posted by: edthefed1 | May 20, 2009 3:58 PM

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