Friday, August 13, 2010

Human Music

Vertical Voices: The Music of Maria Schneider - Dollison and Marsh (ArtistShare) - What a great idea!  Adding voices to to the music of Maria Schneider.  The composer has employed Luciana Souza on her last 2 CDs but Julia Dollison and Kerry Marsh decided to tackle this project from a different angle.  Use Ms. Schneider's superb rhythm section (pianist Frank Kimbrough, guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Jay Anderson and percussionist Clarence Penn) and replace the saxophones, clarinets, flutes, trumpets and trombones with their voices.  Utilizing multi-tracking and wordless vocals, the duo "becomes" the orchestra and the results are stunning and quite successful.  The opening of "Journey Home", led in by Kimbrough's richly melodic piano, is a vocal tour-de-force, with Dollison's higher voice soaring over the deeper tones of Marsh. Then he rises out of the rhythm section, displaying a wide range and dancing atop Penn's fine drums. All of a sudden, it's a dozen Marshes behind the solo voice, high and low - Dollison soon returns, the piece rises in intensity until the voices drop out and Monder takes a long solo of rippling notes that ultimately begin to bring up the heat while the vocalists dance back in. Listen to the power of Clarence Penn near the close of "The 'Pretty' Road" as he stokes the fires while the vocalists expand upon the song's theme.  Like his musical compatriots, he never overplays yet does not hold back when the piece calls for him to provide propulsion.
"Sky Blue", one of the prettiest ballads ever composed, is treated with both respect and creativity.  On the original version, Steve Wilson's soprano saxophone solo literally took my breath away. Here, the vocal  choir beneath Dollison's reading of the main theme may remind some of the ethereal vocals of The Beach Boys or their influence, the Four Freshmen, with Marsh's low notes equating to the trombones that the composer uses to bolster the song. Dollison's solo ranges far and wide, sometimes angelic, bird-like at times, chattering, keening, swooping, reaching for the sky.  Like Wilson's long and heartbreaking solo, this is simply divine.
"Hang Gliding", with Anderson's solid underpinning and Kimbrough's Brazilian-tinged piano, gives the singers a forum to "let go" - they weave in and around each other, trading lines like 2 saxophonists at a jam session.  The sweet shuffling rhythms of "Dança Ilusoria"allows the leaders to layer their voices, creating a rich forest of sound.  Anderson's expressive bass lines, Penn's stealthy brush work and Kimbrough's sprightly solo, all the while the voices adding textural commentary. After the piano solo, Marsh scats with glee and abandon while Monder drops little riffs that one might miss if not paying close attention, and it's a moment before one realizes Dollison's voices are back in the mix.
As I wrote at the top, a great idea - Julia Dollison & Kerry Marsh (now wife and husband) spent many hours (some under the watchful eye of the composer) giving this great music a fresh and enjoyable re-working. For more information, go to or

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