REVIEW: Maria Schneider and Darcy James Argue with the JAZZGROOVE MOTHERSHIP ORCHESTRA

Jazz queen reigns with a wave of her hand

By Anastasia Slipper

Maria Schneider

The anticipation was palpable as one of the world’s foremost jazz musicians walked onto the stage. Yet she didn’t hold an instrument or approach a microphone. In fact she didn’t make any sound at all. She merely held up a hand, and with a few gestures created exciting, complex and subtle music.

This mysteriously silent musician whom everyone had come to see was arguably the premiere big band composer and arranger of the last three decades – Maria Schneider. And her instrument? An eighteen-piece jazz orchestra, that she played like a puppet master, pulling all the strings to elicit finely-tuned dynamics and expressive solos.

From boisterous grooves such as ‘Gumba Blue’ to the haunting hymn-like lyricism of ‘Sky Blue’ the Sydney-based Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra effortlessly rose to the task of interpreting Schneider’s sumptuous works under the watchful eye (and hand) of the composer herself.

Members of the band were given plenty of soloistic freedom and space, resulting in some exciting improvisation, especially from sax players Roger Manins and Richard Maegraith. The blend of finely-crafted structure and precision together with sections of improvisatory exploration was exquisite, and a real feature of Schneider’s work.

Earlier in the evening, the band opened with a set of tunes by young Canadian composer Darcy James Argue, who also conducted his works. While not in the same league as Schneider, Argue’s style was innovative and energetic, using colour and effects extremely well. An early trumpet solo from Ken Allars featured half-valve techniques set against a backdrop of muted trombones, and set the tone for an enjoyable first set.

These two internationally-acclaimed composers, along with a fabulous Australian band, are proof that the big band era lives on – and has a great future ahead of it.

Maria Schneider, Darcy James Argue and the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra  performed on June 6, 2013 as part of the Melbourne Intermational Jazz Festival.